skip to main content


Title: Progress and Application Perspectives of Voltage‐Controlled Magnetic Tunnel Junctions
Abstract

This article discusses the current state of development, open research opportunities, and application perspectives of electric‐field‐controlled magnetic tunnel junctions that use the voltage‐controlled magnetic anisotropy effect to control their magnetization. The integration of embedded magnetic random‐access memory (MRAM) into mainstream semiconductor foundry manufacturing opens new possibilities for the development of energy‐efficient, high‐performance, and intelligent computing systems. The current generation of MRAM, which uses the current‐controlled spin‐transfer torque (STT) effect to write information, has gained traction due to its nonvolatile data retention and lower integration cost compared to embedded Flash. However, scaling MRAM to high bit densities will likely require a transition from current‐controlled to voltage‐controlled operation. In this perspective, an overview of voltage‐controlled magnetic anisotropy (VCMA) as a promising beyond‐STT write mechanism for MRAM devices is provided and recent advancements in developing VCMA‐MRAM devices with perpendicular magnetization are highlighted. Starting from the fundamental mechanisms, the key remaining challenges of VCMA‐MRAM, such as increasing the VCMA coefficient, controlling the write error rate, and achieving field‐free VCMA switching are discussed. Then potential solutions are discussed and open research questions are highlighted. Lastly, prospective applications of voltage‐controlled magnetic tunnel junctions (VC‐MTJs) in security applications, extending beyond their traditional role as memory devices are explored.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1919109
NSF-PAR ID:
10439611
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Advanced Materials Technologies
Volume:
8
Issue:
18
ISSN:
2365-709X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The emergence of embedded magnetic random-access memory (MRAM) and its integration in mainstream semiconductor manufacturing technology have created an unprecedented opportunity for engineering computing systems with improved performance, energy efficiency, lower cost, and unconventional computing capabilities. While the initial interest in the existing generation of MRAM—which is based on the spin-transfer torque (STT) effect in ferromagnetic tunnel junctions—was driven by its nonvolatile data retention and lower cost of integration compared to embedded Flash (eFlash), the focus of MRAM research and development efforts is increasingly shifting toward alternative write mechanisms (beyond STT) and new materials (beyond ferromagnets) in recent years. This has been driven by the need for better speed vs density and speed vs endurance trade-offs to make MRAM applicable to a wider range of memory markets, as well as to utilize the potential of MRAM in various unconventional computing architectures that utilize the physics of nanoscale magnets. In this Perspective, we offer an overview of spin–orbit torque (SOT) as one of these beyond-STT write mechanisms for the MRAM devices. We discuss, specifically, the progress in developing SOT-MRAM devices with perpendicular magnetization. Starting from basic symmetry considerations, we discuss the requirement for an in-plane bias magnetic field which has hindered progress in developing practical SOT-MRAM devices. We then discuss several approaches based on structural, magnetic, and chiral symmetry-breaking that have been explored to overcome this limitation and realize bias-field-free SOT-MRAM devices with perpendicular magnetization. We also review the corresponding material- and device-level challenges in each case. We then present a perspective of the potential of these devices for computing and security applications beyond their use in the conventional memory hierarchy. 
    more » « less
  2. We offer a perspective on the prospects of ultrafast spintronics and opto-magnetism as a pathway to high-performance, energy-efficient, and non-volatile embedded memory in digital integrated circuit applications. Conventional spintronic devices, such as spin-transfer-torque magnetic-resistive random-access memory (STT-MRAM) and spin–orbit torque MRAM, are promising due to their non-volatility, energy-efficiency, and high endurance. STT-MRAMs are now entering into the commercial market; however, they are limited in write speed to the nanosecond timescale. Improvement in the write speed of spintronic devices can significantly increase their usefulness as viable alternatives to the existing CMOS-based devices. In this article, we discuss recent studies that advance the field of ultrafast spintronics and opto-magnetism. An optimized ferromagnet–ferrimagnet exchange-coupled magnetic stack, which can serve as the free layer of a magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ), can be optically switched in as fast as ∼3 ps. Integration of ultrafast magnetic switching of a similar stack into an MTJ device has enabled electrical readout of the switched state using a relatively larger tunneling magnetoresistance ratio. Purely electronic ultrafast spin–orbit torque induced switching of a ferromagnet has been demonstrated using ∼6 ps long charge current pulses. We conclude our Perspective by discussing some of the challenges that remain to be addressed to accelerate ultrafast spintronics technologies toward practical implementation in high-performance digital information processing systems.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract Magnetic random-access memory (MRAM) based on voltage-controlled magnetic anisotropy in magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs) is a promising candidate for high-performance computing applications, due to its lower power consumption, higher bit density, and the ability to reduce the access transistor size when compared to conventional current-controlled spin-transfer torque MRAM. The key to realizing these advantages is to have a low MTJ switching voltage. Here, we report a perpendicular MTJ structure with a high voltage-controlled magnetic anisotropy coefficient ~130 fJ/Vm and high tunnel magnetoresistance exceeding 150%. Owing to the high voltage-controlled magnetic anisotropy coefficient, we demonstrate sub-nanosecond precessional switching of nanoscale MTJs with diameters of 50 and 70 nm, using a voltage lower than 1 V. We also show scaling of this switching mechanism down to 30 nm MTJs, with voltages close to 2 V. The results pave the path for the future development and application of voltage-controlled MRAMs and spintronic devices in emerging computing systems. 
    more » « less
  4. Spin currents are used to write information in magnetic random access memory (MRAM) devices by switching the magnetization direction of one of the ferromagnetic electrodes of a magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) nanopillar. Different physical mechanisms of conversion of charge current to spin current can be used in two-terminal and three-terminal device geometries. In two-terminal devices, charge-to-spin conversion occurs by spin filtering in the MTJ's ferromagnetic electrodes and present day MRAM devices operate near the theoretically expected maximum charge-to-spin conversion efficiency. In three-terminal devices, spin–orbit interactions in a channel material can also be used to generate large spin currents. In this Perspective article, we discuss charge-to-spin conversion processes that can satisfy the requirements of MRAM technology. We emphasize the need to develop channel materials with larger charge-to-spin conversion efficiency—that can equal or exceed that produced by spin filtering—and spin currents with a spin polarization component perpendicular to the channel interface. This would enable high-performance devices based on sub-20 nm diameter perpendicularly magnetized MTJ nanopillars without need of a symmetry breaking field. We also discuss MRAM characteristics essential for CMOS integration. Finally, we identify critical research needs for charge-to-spin conversion measurements and metrics that can be used to optimize device channel materials and interface properties prior to full MTJ nanopillar device fabrication and characterization. 
    more » « less
  5. Recent advancement in the switching of perpendicular magnetic tunnel junctions with an electric field has been a milestone for realizing ultra-low energy memory and computing devices. To integrate with current spin-transfer torque-magnetic tunnel junction and spin–orbit torque-magnetic tunnel junction devices, the typical linear fJ/V m range voltage controlled magnetic anisotropy (VCMA) needs to be significantly enhanced with approaches that include new materials or stack engineering. A possible bidirectional and 1.1 pJ/V m VCMA effect has been predicted by using heavily electron-depleted Fe/MgO interfaces. To improve upon existing VCMA technology, we have proposed inserting high work function materials underneath the magnetic layer. This will deplete electrons from the magnetic layer biasing the gating window into the electron-depleted regime, where the pJ/V m and bidirectional VCMA effect was predicted. We have demonstrated tunable control of the Ta/Pd(x)/Ta underlayer's work function. By varying the Pd thickness (x) from 0 to 10 nm, we have observed a tunable change in the Ta layer's work function from 4.32 to 4.90 eV. To investigate the extent of the electron depletion as a function of the Pd thickness in the underlayer, we have performed DFT calculations on supercells of Ta/Pd(x)/Ta/CoFe/MgO, which demonstrate that electron depletion will not be fully screened at the CoFe/MgO interface. Gated pillar devices with Hall cross geometries were fabricated and tested to extract the anisotropy change as a function of applied gate voltage for samples with various Pd thicknesses. The electron-depleted Pd samples show three to six times VCMA improvement compared to the electron accumulated Ta control sample. 
    more » « less