Reducing the stochasticity of crystal nucleation to enable subnanosecond memory writing

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Science  15 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6369, pp. 1423-1427
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3212

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Fast phase change with no preconditions

Random access memory (RAM) devices that rely on phase changes are primarily limited by the speed of crystallization. Rao et al. combined theory with a simple set of selection criteria to isolate a scandium-doped antimony telluride (SST) with a subnanosecond crystallization speed (see the Perspective by Akola and Jones). They synthesized SST and constructed a RAM device with a 700-picosecond writing speed. This is an order of magnitude faster than previous phase-change memory devices and competitive with consumer dynamic access, static random access, and flash memory.

Science, this issue p. 1423; see also p. 1386


Operation speed is a key challenge in phase-change random-access memory (PCRAM) technology, especially for achieving subnanosecond high-speed cache memory. Commercialized PCRAM products are limited by the tens of nanoseconds writing speed, originating from the stochastic crystal nucleation during the crystallization of amorphous germanium antimony telluride (Ge2Sb2Te5). Here, we demonstrate an alloying strategy to speed up the crystallization kinetics. The scandium antimony telluride (Sc0.2Sb2Te3) compound that we designed allows a writing speed of only 700 picoseconds without preprogramming in a large conventional PCRAM device. This ultrafast crystallization stems from the reduced stochasticity of nucleation through geometrically matched and robust scandium telluride (ScTe) chemical bonds that stabilize crystal precursors in the amorphous state. Controlling nucleation through alloy design paves the way for the development of cache-type PCRAM technology to boost the working efficiency of computing systems.

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