Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Spintronic-based magnetic random-access memory (MRAM) implementing the tunnel magnetoresistance (TMR) effect has various advantages over conventional semiconductor base memory devices, such as non-volatility and potentially high density and scalability. Traditional MRAM design implemented in-plane magnetic switching for the read/write operation which is now recognized to suffer from poor scalability below 60 nm. With the discovery of the spin-transfer torque (STT) effect, where the spin-polarized current is used to switch the ferromagnet, the MRAM design simplified considerably as it eliminated one of the two current-carrying wires that are used to generate the magnetic field required for switching. The thermal stability is further enhanced by using magnetic materials with perpendicular magnetic anisotropy (PMA). In current devices, perpendicular anisotropy is developed at the free magnetic layer (CoFeB) interface with the tunnel barrier (MgO). It is called interfacial-perpendicular anisotropy. However, it has been shown that this design has scaling issues below 20 nm. Materials with volume (bulk) perpendicular magnetic anisotropy should show better scaling without compromising on thermal stability.This dissertation work is focused on growth and physical property investigations of thin films of novel magnetic and electronic materials which are promising for MRAM devices. Leveraging on prior identified materials (both theory and bulk materials experiment) with tetragonal and hexagonal symmetry that support PMA, we have successfully implemented several manganese-based hexagonal Heusler-like Mn3-xFexSn (X=0,1,2) alloys predicted to be high PMA materials. While Mn3Sn thin films are reported in the literature, we are not aware of any thin film reports elsewhere on Fe2MnSn and Mn2FeSn thin films discussed here. All these materials are stabilized in the hexagonal structure which inherently supports perpendicular anisotropy. Specifically, we found that Mn3Sn has low saturation magnetization and high Tc but low magnetic anisotropy. Mn2FeSn has a moderate magnetic moment but low Tc (272 K). Fe2MnSn is the most favorable material among our investigations, with high magnetic anisotropy and high Curie temperature of 548 K, but with a higher than desired magnetization value. The magnetic anisotropy value of Fe2MnSn is estimated to be 0.56 MJ/m3. Such value is in the desirable range for MRAM devices. Our thermal stability calculations indicate that STT-MRAM with Fe2MnSn free layer can scale below 20 nm lateral size for 3nm free layer thickness. While the scaling behavior remains to be investigated experimentally, my work has demonstrated that research into new materials is always an exciting prospect particularly if combined with a theory-driven design approach.
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