Researchers create breakthrough spintronics manufacturing process that could revolutionize the electronics industry
University of Minnesota researchers, along with a team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), developed a breakthrough process for making spintronic devices that has the potential to become the new industry standard for semiconductors chips that are essential to computers, smartphones and many other electronics. The new process will allow for faster, more efficient spintronics devices that can be scaled down smaller than ever before.
The paper is published in Advanced Functional Materials.
“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, senior author of the paper and professor in the College of Science and Engineering.
The semiconductor industry is constantly trying to develop smaller and smaller chips that can maximize energy efficiency, computing speed and data storage capacity in electronic devices. Spintronic devices, which leverage the spin of electrons rather than the 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 they require less power and can store memory and perform computing even after you remove their power source.
The industry standard spintronic material, cobalt iron boron, has reached a limit in its scalability. The researchers 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 much smaller sizes.
“This means Honeywell, Skywater, Globalfoundries, Intel and companies like them can integrate this material into their semiconductor manufacturing processes and products,” Wang said. “That’s very exciting because engineers in the industry will be able to design even more powerful systems.”
Wang’s team worked with University of Minnesota Technology Commercialization and NIST to patent this technology, along with several other patents related to this research. This discovery also opens up a new vein of research for designing and manufacturing spintronic devices for the next decade.
Wang said Minnesota has been leading this effort for more than 10 years with strong support by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
For the first time, the researchers were able to grow iron palladium on a silicon wafer using an 8-inch wafer-capable multi-chamber ultrahigh vacuum sputtering system, a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment among academic institutions across the country and 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 nanometers, on top of a semiconductor industry-compatible substrate, so-called CMOS+X strategies,” said Deyuan Lyu, first author on the paper and a Ph.D. student in the College of Science and 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 staff scientist at NIST and one of the key contributors to the research. “It will be exciting to see how this advance drives further growth of spintronics devices within the semiconductor chip technology landscape.”
This research was funded by a grant from DARPA and in part by NIST; SMART, one of seven centers of nCORE, an SRC program; and NSF.
About the College of Science and Engineering
The University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering brings together the University’s programs in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics and computer science into one college. The college is ranked among the top academic programs in the country and includes 12 academic departments offering a wide range of degree programs at the baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral levels. Learn more at cse.umn.edu.
- Science and Technology