Switching Up Data Storage With Nanostructured Materials

Scientists in Singapore and China have developed a material with a layered nanostructure that can increase the speed and efficiency of data storage devices.

AsianScientist (Sep. 29, 2017) – In a study published in the journal Nano Futures, scientists in Singapore and China have developed a nanostructured material for data storage that is faster and more efficient than current technologies.

Data storage devices are critical elements of modern day electronics. The properties of materials used within these devices determine their storage capacity, speed and efficiency.

In this study, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the Shanghai Institute of Microsystems and Information Technology have nano-engineered a superlattice data storage material. Data is recorded at the interfaces of the superlattice layers.

When the atoms at the interface are disordered, the material has a high electrical resistance, while the ordered interface has a low electrical resistance. Since only the interface switches between ordered and disordered states, a subset of layers within the material can remain unchanged and crystalline. This means that the interface can be engineered by the non-switching layers—the entire structure need not switch into a disordered state. This makes the superlattice very different from unstructured phase change memory alloys, such as the Ge2Sb2Te5 alloy.

The authors demonstrated that the fast switching that occurs in these nanostructured materials is due to a phenomenon known as avalanche atomic switching at the interface. The first atom that switches its state requires a large amount of energy, but subsequent atoms require less energy. As more atoms switch, the energy required for other atoms to switch is lowered. This leads to an exponential increase in the switching probability of each subsequent atom.

The researchers showed that the energy required for the first atom to switch states can be engineered by straining the layer interfaces. They created prototype memory devices which exploit this effect which outperformed state-of-the-art phase change memory devices. The switching voltage, current and switching time were substantially reduced while the electrical resistance changed by a factor of 500. Hence, these prototype devices are faster and more efficient than current competing technologies.

“The superlattices devices are remarkably energy efficient. We foresee this technology impacting new 3D memory architectures, such as Intel’s 3D x-point,” said study author Assistant Professor Robert Simpson of SUTD. “We are now building on the success of these data storage materials by optimizing similar phase change materials for switchable nanophotonics applications.”

The article can be found at: Zhou et al. (2017) Avalanche Atomic Switching in Strain Engineered Sb2Te3–GeTe Interfacial Phase-change Memory Cells.


Source: Singapore University of Technology and Design; Photo: Shutterstock.
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