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The magnetic basis – rather than the charge-basis – of the storage technology opened the way to memory that would be retained even when power to a computer or storage device was shut off.

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DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY I 60 YEARS

so-called tunnel magnetoresistance (TMR). In this process, electrons move between the two magnetic layers by “tunneling” through an intervening insulator layer in that mysterious quantum-mechanical sense. “This is mind-blowing,” Slaughter said, “because the electrons are never in the insulator.” Mind-blowing yes, and a commercial coup to boot. Slaughter says his team, working on what was referred to within the company as the “Panther Project,” identified a variation on the TMR theme, called toggle switching, as the technology to bet the farm on. In 2004, Motorola spun off its vast Freescale semiconductor operation (including its MRAM research) as an independent entity and two years later Freescale became the first company in the world to sell an MRAM product – a 4 Mb MRAM chip based on toggle switching. Freescale did not have a memory business at the time and was not investing in new markets, Slaughter said in an interview. So he, with help from others in the community, attracted sufficient venture capital to

PHOTO BY ANDREW MAGILL

A hard-drive read head with a spintronics-based operation that enables it to read data stored at high densities.

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DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency 1958-2018  

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