University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers, along with a team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have developed a breakthrough process for making spintronic devices that has the potential to become the new industry standard for semiconductor chips. The new process will allow for faster, more efficient spintronics devices that can be scaled down smaller than ever before.
‘We believe we’ve found a material and a device that will allow the semiconducting industry to move forward with more opportunities in spintronics that weren’t there before for memory and computing applications,’ said Jian-Ping Wang, professor and Robert F Hartmann chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. ‘Spintronics is incredibly important for building microelectronics with new functionalities.’
According to Wang, the discovery opens up a new vein of research for designing and manufacturing spintronic devices for the next decade. ‘This means Honeywell, Skywater, Globalfoundries, Intel and companies like them can integrate this material into their semiconductor manufacturing processes and products,’ he said. ‘That’s very exciting because engineers in the industry will be able to design even more powerful systems.’
The semiconductor industry is constantly trying to develop smaller chips that can maximise energy efficiency, computing speed and data storage. Spintronic devices, which leverage the spin of electrons rather than electrical charge to store data, provide a promising and more efficient alternative to traditional transistor-based chips. These materials also have the potential to be non-volatile, meaning that they require less power and can store data and perform computations even after their power source has been removed.
Spintronic materials have been successfully integrated into semiconductor chips for more than a decade, but the industry-standard spintronic material – cobalt iron boron – has reached a limit in its scalability. Currently, engineers are unable to make devices smaller than 20 nanometres without losing their ability to store data.
The University of Minnesota researchers have circumvented this problem by showing that iron palladium, an alternative material that requires less energy and has the potential for more data storage, can be scaled down to sizes as small as five nanometres.
And, for the first time, the researchers were able to grow iron palladium on a silicon wafer using an 20-centimetre wafer-capable multi-chamber ultra-high vacuum sputtering system, a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment only available at the University of Minnesota.
‘This work is showing for the first time in the world that you can grow this material, which can be scaled down to smaller than five nanometres, on top of a semiconductor-industry-compatible substratem – so-called CMOS+X strategies,’ said Deyuan Lyu, a PhD student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
‘Our team challenged ourselves to elevate a new material to manufacture spintronic devices needed for the next generation of data-hungry apps,’ said Daniel Gopman, a NIST staff scientist. ‘It will be exciting to see how this advance drives further growth of spintronics devices within the semiconductor chip technology landscape.’
The research has been published in Advanced Functional Materials.