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Electronics future in conventional films

Posted: 30 Jun 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ferroelectric  electronics  nanoscale 

Phase transitions to implement memory and computing is the real fundamental distinction of future information technologies, according to researchers, and they have demonstrated ferroelectric switching as such phase transition.

Ferroelectric materials have, for decades, held tremendous promise for computing, but there was no experimental proof. Now researchers have the proof with the development of an instrument that can simultaneously measure conducting and polar properties of oxide materials with nanometer-scale spatial resolution under a controlled vacuum environment.

Peter Maksymovych, Stephen Jesse, Art Baddorf and Sergei Kalinin believe they have the key to the new phase in computing. "For years, the challenge has been to develop a nanoscale material that can act as a switch to store binary information," Maksymovych said. "We are excited by our discovery and the prospect of finally being able to exploit the long-conjectured bi-stable electrical conductivity of ferroelectric materials. Harnessing this functionality will ultimately enable smart and ultra-dense memory technology," he added.

Ferroelectric switching
The authors report the first ever demonstration of a giant intrinsic electroresistance in conventional ferroelectric films. Ferroelectric materials can retain their electrostatic polarisation and are used for piezoactuators, memory devices and RFID. The key distinction of ferroelectric memory switches is that they can be tuned through thermodynamic properties of ferroelectrics. Flipping of the spontaneous polarisation increased conductance by up to 50,000 per cent.

To explain the research finding, Maksymovych made an analogy with a door. "It is as if we open a tiny door in the polar surface for electrons to enter. The size of this door is less than one-millionth of an inch, and it is very likely taking only one-billionth of a second to open."

Kalinin added that "Among other benefits, we can use the tunability to minimise the power needed for recording and reading information and read-write voltages, a key requirement for any viable memory technology."

Numerous previous works had demonstrated defect-mediated memory, but defects cannot easily be predicted, controlled, analysed or reduced in size, Maksymovych said. Ferroelectric switching, however, surpasses all of these limitations and will offer unprecedented functionality.

The instrument was developed and built by Baddorf. The materials used for this study were grown and provided by collaborators at the University of California at Berkeley.

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