Hot electronics get magnetic cool


Hot electronics get magnetic cool


The EU-funded HYMAGINE project has combined conventional electronic transistors with new magnetism-based ‘spintronic’ devices to improve information processing speeds and reduce energy consumption.

Caption: Automatic electrical testing of hybrid CMOS/magnetic chips from HYMAGINE

Faster supercomputers demand ever smaller-scale microstructures if they are to remain on a rising performance curve. Yet as transistors shrink to the nanometre scale, so power densities and temperatures rise – and the materials they are made of can only take so much before breaking down.

HYMAGINE researchers have developed hybrid solutions combining conventional semiconductor (CMOS) components with memory devices based on magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJ). These logic/memory hybrids use much less energy than CMOS-only circuits. The magnetic memory works as fast as existing static random access memory (SRAM), but storage is more stable than SRAMs – just like in (much slower) hard disk drives.

A new spin on old technology

“Conventional electronic CMOS devices are great for logic operations but not so good for working memory,” explains Bernard Dieny who leads this project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) . “Magnetic storage is much better, because of its ability to keep the written information even when the electrical supply is switched off. In HYMAGINE we deposited MTJ memory structures (MRAMs) directly onto commercial CMOS semiconductor wafers and tested the results with great success.”

Basic MTJs have two magnetic layers separated by a thin layer of magnesium oxide. In one magnetic layer the magnetic polarity is fixed, in the other ‘free’ storage layer it can switch. The junction uses ‘spin transfer torque’ to write information, whereby electrons flowing in the device are ‘spin polarised’ and can switch the polarity in the storage layer between two (binary) states. Read operations rely on measuring the resistance through the MgO layer, which is higher with opposed polarities and lower with aligned polarities.

“When testing read/write operations in our junctions we investigated several important properties,” says Dieny. “First we demonstrated that CMOS/MTJ hybrids can operate at industry-standard speeds of around 1GHz. We found they consume a fifth of the energy needed by conventional all-CMOS systems, so they use significantly less power.

“A further critical property is the ‘endurance’ of the junction, which is the number of read/write voltage cycles it can support before failure becomes likely. Standard flash memory such as USB drives will support 100 000 cycles, but we found our hybrids have an endurance of 1015 cycles – almost unlimited for practical purposes!”

Material matters

As endurance is such a critical property for eventual take-up, the HYMAGINE team investigated the physical mechanisms causing device failure. They found that electrons tunnelling through the MgO layer are trapped at lattice defects. Trapping and untrapping of electrons can lead to high stresses in the layer leading to early material breakdown.

“We established that the density of defects, such as incorporated water molecules, must be kept low. Already a number of equipment suppliers are adapting their vacuum equipment to reduce background H2O pressures with an eye on growing markets for MTJ devices,” explains Dieny. “We also found that the endurance of a newly manufactured device can be predicted using a measure of voltage background noise. This is a significant result for chip-makers who can use such measurements as quality control steps in volume manufacturing.”

HYMAGINE also developed advanced computer-based modelling and design tools for CMOS/MTJ hybrids and incorporated these into widely-used industry-standard software packages. Building on this work, a new company eVaderis was set up to offer spintronic design services, and eventually devices to the semiconductor world.

Encouraging crosstalk

“There is too little communication between the ‘microelectronics’ and ‘magnetism’ communities in the semiconductor world, and this is holding back spintronic applications,” says Dieny. “This is why we launched annual summer schools in Grenoble on MRAM technologies – bringing researchers and engineers together to learn more about spintronics.”

Dieny is also taking spintronics further in a new ERC project called MAGICAL, which will add communications and sensor functions to low power CMOS/MTJ hybrids. “If the ‘Internet of Things’ is to advance, then low power devices are a must,” he explains. “Wearable computers, solar-powered sensors, connected pacemakers – they all demand low power solutions, and magnetism-based devices can offer these as HYMAGINE showed.”

Bernard Dieny’s achievement in the field of MRAMs was recognised with the award of the Adrien Constantin de Magny Prize by the French Académie des Sciences in 2015.


UCLA mathematicians bring ocean to life for Disney’s ‘Moana’

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UCLA mathematicians bring ocean to life for Disney’s ‘Moana’

They bring the magic of realism to animation and apply this new knowledge to solve real-world problems Stuart Wolpert | January 03, 2017

Courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios

The hit Disney movie “Moana” features stunning visual effects, including the animation of water to such a degree that it becomes a distinct character in the film.

UCLA mathematics professor Joseph Teran, a Walt Disney consultant on animated movies since 2007, is under no illusion that artists want lengthy mathematics lessons, but many of them realize that the success of animated movies often depends on advanced mathematics.

“In general, the animators and artists at the studios want as little to do with mathematics and physics as possible, but the demands for realism in animated movies are so high,” Teran said. “Things are going to look fake if you don’t at least start with the correct physics and mathematics for many materials, such as water and snow. If the physics and mathematics are not simulated accurately, it will be very glaring that something is wrong with the animation of the material.”

Flipping the calculus classroom: an evaluative study

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Flipping the calculus classroom: an evaluative study

  1. Wes Maciejewski* Wes Maciejewski obtained his Ph.D. in mathematical biology in 2012 from Queen’s University, Canada. Since then, his research has focused on mathematics education at the tertiary level. He always welcomes unsolicited emails from potential collaborators.

+ Author Affiliations

  1. Department of Mathematics, The University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
  1. w.maciejewski
  • Received July 1, 2015.
  • Accepted November 1, 2015.

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Classroom flipping is the practice of moving new content instruction out of class time, usually packaging it as online videos and reading assignments for students to cover on their own, and devoting in-class time to interactive engagement activities. Flipping has garnered a large amount of hype from the popular education media and has been adopted in a variety of contexts. Despite this high amount of interest, few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of classroom flipping on student academic outcomes. Specifically, no rigorous studies of the effects of flipping a mathematics course on students’ mathematical understandings and achievement appear in the literature. This article reports results from a control group study of flipping a large (N = 690), first-year university calculus course for life sciences students. Students in the flipped course sections on average outperformed their counterparts in the traditional sections on the final exam, though only by approximately 8%. A more detailed analysis reveals the true beneficiaries in a flipped classroom—those with high basic mathematical ability and low initial calculus knowledge. Gains for this group are considerable: approximately 10% on the final, with an effect size of d = 0.56, and comparable gains on an independent measure of calculus concept mastery. This study positions classroom flipping as an effective practice in undergraduate mathematics and calls for further research into the mechanisms behind its effectiveness.

Top scorers in Mathematics- PISA Global Student Assessment

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Top 3 mean 2015 PISA score in Mathematics

  • Singapore 564
  • Hong Kong (China) 548
  • Macao (China) 544

Mean: 490

Most of the top scorers in Mathematics are countries from eastern Asia, followed by European countries.

For comparison

  • US 470
  • Greece 454
  • Cyprus 437

Bottom 3 mean 2015 PISA scores in Mathematics

  • Kosovo 362
  • Algeria 360
  • Dominican Republic 328

Some findings from the PISA global education survey

  • One in four boys and girls reported that they expect to work in a science-related occupation but opt for very different ones: girls mostly seek positions in the health sector and boys in becoming ICT professionals, scientists or engineers.
  • Poorer students are 3 times more likely to be low performers than wealthier students, and immigrant students are more than twice as likely as non-immigrants to be low achievers.
  • How much time students spend learning and how science is taught are even more strongly associated with science performance and the expectations of pursuing a science-related career than how well-equipped and staffed the science department is and science teachers’ qualifications.

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Many Business Leaders Doubt U.S. Colleges Prepare Students

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Many Business Leaders Doubt U.S. Colleges Prepare Students

by Preety Sidhu and Valerie J. Calderon

Few leaders believe U.S. colleges and universities are the best

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Business leaders have doubts that higher education institutions in the U.S. are graduating students who meet their particular businesses’ needs. More than one-third of business leaders agree with the statement “higher education institutions in this country are graduating students with the skills and competences that my business needs.” About a third disagree with this statement — including 17% who strongly disagree — while another third is neutral.

These findings are from a Nov. 25-Dec. 16, 2013, telephone survey with 623 U.S. business leaders that Gallup conducted on behalf of Lumina Foundation. The sample for the business leader study is nationally representative of businesses in the U.S., with minimum quotas by sales revenue. The study gauges business leaders’ perceptions of higher education in this country. The business leader poll was conducted concurrently with the third-annual Gallup/Lumina Poll report on Higher Education.

Few Business Leaders Believe U.S. Colleges and Universities Are the Best

When asked to react to two statements about the quality of higher education in the country, 37% of business leaders agree the U.S. has the highest quality college and university system in the world, including 19% who strongly agree. Nearly as many — 32% — disagree.

The perceived deficiencies of the American higher education system, however, do not mean that employers are turning elsewhere when hiring. Slightly more than one in 10 business leaders agree that their business must hire foreign-born workers as a result of a shortage of American workers with necessary skills, including 4% who strongly agree. But 57% strongly disagree with this statement.

Although most business leaders disagree that they need to hire foreign-born workers, a majority, 61%, would favor a policy of issuing green cards to foreign-born international students who graduate from U.S. higher education institutions. And 36% would oppose it.


There is a disconnect between what business leaders need and what higher education institutions think they are producing. A separate Gallup study for Inside Higher Ed finds that 96% of chief academic officers at higher education institutions say their institution is very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work. Quite the reverse, business leaders say that college graduates do not have the skills that their particular businesses need such as applicable knowledge and applied skills in the field. Even though leaders are not yet turning to foreign-born workers when hiring, they favor increasing green card policies for foreign-born international graduate students in the U.S.

There is clearly room to increase collaboration, with a strong majority of business leaders favoring an increased level of collaboration between higher education institutions and businesses. An increased level of collaboration will benefit both business leaders and higher education institutions in preparing students with the right knowledge and applied skills so that they are ready for the real world and have the best opportunity to find a good job.