Fundamental discovery could lead to better memory chips

March 15, 2011
At the atomic scale, University of Michigan researchers have for the first time mapped the polarization of a cutting-edge material for memory chips. Credit: Chris Nelson and Xiaoqing Pan

(PhysOrg.com) -- Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to improve the performance of ferroelectric materials, which have the potential to make memory devices with more storage capacity than magnetic hard drives and faster write speed and longer lifetimes than flash memory.

In ferroelectric memory the direction of molecules' electrical serves as a 0 or a 1 bit. An electric field is used to flip the polarization, which is how data is stored.

With his colleagues at U-M and collaborators from Cornell University, Penn State University, and University of Wisconsin, Madison, Xiaoqing Pan, a professor in the U-M Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has designed a material system that spontaneously forms small nano-size spirals of the electric polarization at controllable intervals, which could provide natural budding sites for the polarization switching and thus reduce the power needed to flip each bit.

"To change the state of a ferroelectric , you have to supply enough electric field to induce a small region to switch the polarization. With our material, such a nucleation process is not necessary," Pan said. "The nucleation sites are intrinsically there at the material interfaces."

To make this happen, the engineers layered a ferroelectric material on an insulator whose crystal lattices were closely matched. The polarization causes large electric fields at the ferroelectric surface that are responsible for the spontaneous formation of the budding sites, known as "vortex nanodomains."

The researchers also mapped the material's polarization with atomic resolution, which was a key challenge, given the small scale. They used images from a sub-angstrom resolution at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They also developed image processing software to accomplish this.

"This type of mapping has never been done," Pan said. "Using this technique, we've discovered unusual vortex nanodomains in which the electric polarization gradually rotates around the vortices."

Explore further: Shocking: Environmental chemistry affects ferroelectric film polarity the same way electric voltage does

More information: A paper on the research, titled "Spontaneous Vortex Nanodomain Arrays at Ferroelectric Heterointerfaces" is available online at Nano Letters website.

Related Stories

Reverse Chemical Switching of a Ferroelectric Film

February 25, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ferroelectric materials display a spontaneous electric polarization below the Curie temperature that can be reoriented, typically by applying an electric field. In this study, researchers from Argonne, Northern ...

Magnetic Vortex Switch Leads to Electric Pulse

April 8, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of Arkansas have shown that changing the chirality, or direction of spin, of a nanoscale magnetic vortex creates an electric pulse, suggesting that such a pulse might be of use ...

Recommended for you

For 2-D boron, it's all about that base

September 2, 2015

Rice University scientists have theoretically determined that the properties of atom-thick sheets of boron depend on where those atoms land.

Electrical circuit made of gel can repair itself

August 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have fabricated a flexible electrical circuit that, when cut into two pieces, can repair itself and fully restore its original conductivity. The circuit is made of a new gel that possesses a combination ...

An engineered surface unsticks sticky water droplets

August 31, 2015

The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets ...

Scientists grow high-quality graphene from tea tree extract

August 21, 2015

(Phys.org)—Graphene has been grown from materials as diverse as plastic, cockroaches, Girl Scout cookies, and dog feces, and can theoretically be grown from any carbon source. However, scientists are still looking for a ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.