SRC, UC Davis explore new materials and device structures to develop next-generation “Race Track Memory” technologies

University of California, Davis researchers sponsored by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), a university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies, are exploring new materials and device structures to develop next-generation memory technologies.

The research promises to help data storage companies advance their technologies with predicted benefits including increased speed, lower costs, higher capacity, more reliability and improved energy efficiency compared to today’s magnetic hard disk drive and solid state random access memory (RAM) solutions.

Conducted by UC Davis’ Takamura Research Group that has extensive experience in the growth and characterization of complex oxide thin films, heterostructures and nanostructures, the research involves leveraging complex oxides to manipulate magnetic domain walls within the wires of semiconductor memory devices at nanoscale dimensions. This work utilized sophisticated facilities available through the network of Department of Energy-funded national laboratories at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“We were inspired by the ‘Race Track Memory’ developed at IBM and believe complex oxides have the potential to provide additional degrees of freedom that may enable more efficient and reliable manipulation of magnetic domain walls,” said Yayoi Takamura, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, UC Davis.

Existing magnetic hard disk drive and solid state RAM solutions store data either based on the magnetic or electronic state of the storage medium. Hard disk drives provide a lower cost solution for ultra-dense storage, but are relatively slow and suffer reliability issues due to the movement of mechanical parts. Solid state solutions, such as Flash memory for long-term storage and DRAM for short-term storage, offer higher access speeds, but can store fewer bits per unit area and are significantly more costly per bit of data stored.

An alternative technology that may address both of these shortcomings is based on the manipulation of magnetic domain walls, regions that separate two magnetic regions. This technology, originally proposed by IBM researchers and named ‘Race Track Memory,’ is where the UC Davis work picked up.

With most previous studies focused on metallic magnetic materials and their alloys due to well-established processing steps and high Curie temperatures, challenges still remain in manipulating parameters such as the type of domain walls formed, their position within the nanowires and their controlled movement along the length of the nanowires.

The UC Davis research investigates the use of complex oxides, such as La0.67Sr0.33MnO3 (LSMO), and heterostructures with other complex oxides as candidate materials. Complex oxides are part of an exciting new class of so-called “multifunctional’ materials that exhibit multiple properties (e.g. electronic, magnetic, etc.) and may thereby enable multiple functions in a single device. For the case of LSMO, it is a half metal, exhibits colossal magnetoresistance (CMR), meaning it can dramatically change electrical resistance in the presence of a magnetic field, and undergoes a simultaneous ferromagnetic-to-paramagnetic and metal-to-insulator transition at its Curie temperature.

In addition, these properties are sensitive to external stimuli, such as applied magnetic/electric fields, light irradiation, pressure and temperature. These attributes may allow researchers to better manipulate the position and movement of the magnetic domain walls along the length of the nanowires.

“While still in the early stages, the innovative research from the UC Davis team is helping the industry gain a better fundamental understanding linking the chemical, structural, magnetic and electronic properties of next-generation memory materials,” said Bob Havemann, Director of Nanomanufacturing Sciences at the SRC.

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