Computers: Bubbles for the Future

By inventing the transistor 21 years ago, researchers at the Bell Telephone Laboratories paved the way for most of the sophisticated electronic marvels of the 1960s—most notably the miniaturized, high-speed computer. Now they may have done it again. A versatile new device conjured up by the wizards at Bell may eventually make current computers as old-fashioned as the abacus.

For several years, Bell scientists have been experimenting with thin wafers of crystalline materials known as orthoferrites, which are compounds of iron oxides and such rare-earth minerals as ytterbium, thulium and samarium-terbium. They found that when a strong enough magnetic field is...

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