Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Materials Science & Engineering

First Advisor

I-Wei Chen

Abstract

Non-volatile random access memories (NVRAM) are promising data storage and processing devices. Various NVRAM, such as FeRAM and MRAM, have been studied in the past. But resistance switching random access memory (RRAM) has demonstrated the most potential for replacing flash memory in use today. In this dissertation, a novel RRAM material design that relies upon an electronic transition, rather than a phase change (as in chalcogenide Ovonic RRAM) or a structural change (such in oxide and halide filamentary RRAM), is investigated. Since the design is not limited to a single material but applicable to general combinations of metals and insulators, the goal of this study is to use a model material to delineate the intrinsic features of the electronic metal/insulator transition in random systems and to demonstrate their relevance to reliable memory storage and retrieval.

We fabricated amorphous SiO2 thin films embedded with randomly dispersed Pt atoms. Macroscopically, this random material exhibits a percolation transition in electric conductivity similar to the one found in various insulator/metal granular materials. However, at Pt concentrations well below the bulk percolation limit, a distinct insulator to metal transition occurs in the thickness direction as the film thickness falls below electron’s “diffusion” distance, which is the tunneling distance at 0K. The thickness-triggered metal-to-insulator transition (MIT) can be similarly triggered by other conditions: (a) a changing Pt concentration (a concentration-triggered MIT), (b) a changing voltage/polarity (voltage-triggered MIT), and (c) an UV irradiation (photon-triggered MIT).

The resistance switching characteristics of this random material were further investigated in several device configurations under various test conditions. These include: materials for the top and bottom electrodes, fast pulsing, impedance spectroscopy, static stressing, retention, fatigue and temperature from 10K to 448K. The SiO2-Pt RRAM exhibits fast switching speed (~25 ns), high resistance ratio (>100), long retention time/write time ratio (>1012), multi-bit storage and extraordinary performance reproducibility. The device switches by a purely electronic mechanism: electron trapping makes it an insulator; charge detrapping returns it to a metal. The switching voltages are low, ~ 1 V, and are independent of size, thickness, composition, temperature and write/erase time. The insulator state has a conductance that exponentially decays with the thickness.