In non-volatile memory technologies, 2D materials may drive a major leap forward
Non-volatile memories — which can hold information even when the power is off — are largely used in computers, tablets, pen drives and many other electronic devices. Among the various existing technologies, magnetoresistive random access memories (MRAM), currently used only in specific applications, are expected to grow significantly in the market over the next decade.
The latest MRAMs based on spintronic mechanisms – i.e., phenomena related to spin, an intrinsic property of electrons and other particles – can offer faster operations, lower power consumption and long retention time, with possible applications in wearable devices, the automotive industry, and the Internet of Things, among others.
In this context, graphene and other 2D materials, which are as thin as one or very few atomic layers, can play a disruptive role. In fact, their idiosyncratic and remarkable properties can provide solutions to the current technological challenges and performance limitations that stand in the way of further efficient deployment of MRAMs; therefore, they can have a strong impact on the design of next-generation spintronic devices.
The expected improvement and new opportunities that may arise from the introduction of 2D materials in spin-based memory technologies are presented in a perspective article published last week in Nature† This work, led by the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) on the campus of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and the National University of Singapore, provides an overview of the state of play and current challenges are faced in the development of non-volatile memories in general, and in particular, of memories using spintronic mechanisms such as spin transfer couple (STT) and spin orbit couple (SOT). The authors discuss the benefits of co-integrating 2D materials into these technologies, providing a panorama of the improvements already achieved and a prospect of the many advances that further research may bring. A possible timeline of progress over the next decade is also traced.
“As discussed in depth in the paper,” said ICREA Professor Stephan Roche, group leader at the ICN2 and leader of the Graphene Flagship Work Package dedicated to Spintronics, “the fundamental properties of 2D materials such as atomically smooth interfaces, reduced material mixing, crystal symmetries and proximity effects are the drivers for potentially disruptive improvements for spin-based MRAMs, which emerge as low-power key technologies and are expected to spread across large markets, from embedded memories to the Internet of Things.”
This research was coordinated by ICN2 group leaders and ICREA professors Prof. Stephan Roche and Prof. Sergio O. Valenzuela, and by Prof. Hyunsoo Yang from the National University of Singapore. It was carried out by a collaboration of several members of the Graphene Flagship project consortium, including several institutes of the Center national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS, France), Imec (Belgium), Thales Research and Technology (France) and the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), as well as key industries such as Samsung Electronics (South Korea) and Global Foundries (Singapore), bringing the vision of future market integration.
“It is impressive to see the scientific results achieved by the spintronics work package and the technological activities carried out in the imec environment, together with SMEs (Singulus Technologies, GRAPHENEA), paving the way for future impact on market applications “says Prof. Jari Kinaret, director of the flagship Graphene. “There are still challenges to be overcome to fully utilize the potential of 2D materials in real-life applications, but the expected industrial and economic benefits are very high.”
“Financing efforts by the European Commission to support the Graphene Flagship business could put Europe at the forefront of innovative spintronic technologies within ten years,” added Prof. Andrea Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship.
Exploring new spintronics device functionalities in graphene heterostructures
Hyunsoo Yang et al, Two-dimensional material prospects for non-volatile spintronic memories, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04768-0
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