Electrical Wind Force–Driven and Dislocation-Templated Amorphization in Phase-Change Nanowires

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Science  22 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6088, pp. 1561-1566
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220119

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Exploiting Defects in a Jam

Phase-change materials that can readily switch between crystalline and amorphous states are increasingly finding use in nonvolatile memory devices (see the Perspective by Hewak and Gholipour). Using high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, Nam et al. (p. 1561) show that for Ge2Sb2Te5, the application of an electric field drives crystal dislocations in one direction, leading to their accumulation and eventual jamming, which causes the phase transition. Loke et al. (p. 1566) found that by applying a constant low voltage to Ge2Sb2Te5, they could accelerate its phase-switching speeds, without harming the long-term stability of the switched state.


Phase-change materials undergo rapid and reversible crystalline-to-amorphous structural transformation and are being used for nonvolatile memory devices. However, the transformation mechanism remains poorly understood. We have studied the effect of electrical pulses on the crystalline-to-amorphous phase change in a single-crystalline Ge2Sb2Te5 (GST) nanowire memory device by in situ transmission electron microscopy. We show that electrical pulses produce dislocations in crystalline GST, which become mobile and glide in the direction of hole-carrier motion. The continuous increase in the density of dislocations moving unidirectionally in the material leads to dislocation jamming, which eventually induces the crystalline-to-amorphous phase change with a sharp interface spanning the entire nanowire cross section. The dislocation-templated amorphization explains the large on/off resistance ratio of the device.

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