Orbitronics at Keio University: Transforming the horizon of next generation electronics

TOKYO, Dec. 14, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Traditional electronics relies on manipulating electrons through their charge, but a groundbreaking initiative led by scientists at Keio University is propelling us towards a new era in electronics. The research, featured in the journal Communications Physics, unveils the realm of ‘orbitronics,’ where the orbital angular momentum of electrons takes center stage.

In conventional electronics, the manipulation of electrons within solids is the norm. This involves utilizing the charge of electrons to regulate their movement through integrated circuits, transistors, and diodes. However, Keio University researchers are charting a transformative course by delving into the unexplored potential of the electron’s orbital angular momentum.

Specifically, beyond the realm of charge manipulation, electrons possess an inherent property known as spin. This spin, akin to angular momentum, represents an electron’s inclination to rotate around its own axis. The emerging field of spintronics has evolved with the premise that electron spin can be harnessed to control spin currents, opening avenues for innovative applications such as mass storage devices. Notably, another level of electron manipulation is related to electron orbital angular momentum. This refers to a magnetic moment that arises when an electron describes an orbiting path such as that around an atomic nucleus. ‘Orbitronics’ —the associated type of electronics—is still a nascent area of research with the potential for creating new devices to replace conventional semiconductor memory technology. 

With this background, Assistant Professor Hiroki Hayashi from Keio University and colleagues have published experiment results in which they were able to successfully achieve long-distance orbital currents as well as giant current-induced torques [1]. These experiments used the orbital Hall effect which is a charge-orbital conversion phenomenon. These results signify an important milestone towards orbitronics-based technologies being used in the real world.

Assistant Professor Hayashi’s experiments were conducted with nickel and titanium bilayers. The titanium layer acts as the source of the orbital currents. Working with titanium has the advantage of making it easier to distinguish the orbital effects from the effects from the electrons’ spin. Titanium is also a more environmentally sustainable choice than other materials for producing orbital torque in nonmagnetic and magnetic bilayers, as it is light, abundant, and inexpensive. 

When the orbital current is injected into the nickel layer, the electrons’ orbital angular momentums interact with the intrinsic magnetic moments. Nickel is a ferromagnet like iron, meaning that it is attracted to magnets and can be magnetized. This interaction leads to torque being exerted on the nickel layer’s magnetic moments, satisfying the law of conservation of angular momentum. Hayashi and his colleagues were able to demonstrate and measure this torque using a method called spin-torque ferromagnetic resonance.

The researchers performed additional experiments with other nonmagnetic and magnetic bilayer combinations, such as Ni81Fe19 instead of nickel, and tungsten instead of titanium. They also varied the number of atomic layers when performing calculations so that they could create a comprehensive, quantitative overview of orbital responses in this scenario for future reference when fine-tuning their experiments.

The results unambiguously demonstrate long-range transport of angular momentum in nickel, especially with the nickel and tungsten bilayer which created a giant torque that is 10 times more efficient than other previously investigated materials in spintronics. These discoveries of large orbital torques in bilayer systems represent another important milestone towards practical orbitronics applications including magneto-electric spin orbit (MESO) devices which are a theoretical replacement for complementary metal–oxide–semiconductors (CMOS).

Quoting the scientists: “We…believe that our discovery of the long-range orbital transport and gigant orbital torque efficiencies provides important information for the material design of orbital-based devices, which will stimulate further experimental and theoretical studies and lead to the fundamental understanding of the physics of orbital currents for practical applications.”-Keio research team

Figure: https://www.nature.com/articles/s42005-023-01139-7/figures/1

Caption: Orbital transport in a system consisting of a non-magnetic (left) and a magnetic (right) material. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42005-023-01139-7 is licensed under CC BY 4.0 DEED


1.  Hayashi, H., Jo, D., Go, D. et al. Observation of long-range orbital transport and giant orbital torque. Commun Phys 6, 32 (2023).


About the researcher

Hiroki Hayashi - Assistant Professor (Non-tenured)

Hiroki Hayashi received a B.E., M.E., and Doctorate in Applied Physics and Physico-Informatics from Keio University in 2018, 2020, and 2023 respectively. He is currently an Assistant Professor (Non-tenured) at the School of Fundamental Science and Technology, Keio University. His research interests are in spin and orbital dynamics in solids as well as related phenomena in condensed matter physics.

Further information

Office of Research Development and Sponsored Projects

Keio University

2-15-45 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8345 Japan

Telephone: +81 (0)-3-5427-1678

E-mail: keio-rpr@adst.keio.ac.jp


Keio University


Keio Research Highlights


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