Exploring the properties of very skinny hafnium dioxide

Wonderful and weird
An inventive impression of the hafnia atomic construction. Credit score: Reproduced with permission from Nature

The chemistry of hafnium dioxide (often known as hafina) is slightly boring. But, the conduct of ultrathin layers which might be based mostly on this materials could be very attention-grabbing: they can be utilized as non-volatile laptop reminiscence by the switching of dipoles with an electrical subject.

And because the dipole power will depend on the historical past of the electrical subject, it’s appropriate for the development of memristors for ‘brain-like’ laptop architectures. Beatriz Noheda, Professor of Purposeful Nanomaterials on the College of Groningen, has studied the fabric and lately wrote a Perspective article on its properties for the journal Nature Supplies. “It’s already utilized in units, although we don’t perceive the entire physics.”

To create extra environment friendly computer systems, quick non-volatile random-access reminiscence (RAM) is required. Ferroelectric supplies gave the impression to be good candidates. These supplies are made up of items with dipoles that may change collectively utilizing an electrical subject. Nevertheless, their properties break down if the variety of items is simply too small; spontaneous depolarization happens under roughly 90 nanometers.

Oxygen vacancies

One exception is hafnia. “This was found kind of by chance,” says Beatriz Noheda. Hafnia could be very secure at excessive temperatures and in hostile environments and is historically used within the metallurgical and chemical engineering trade. It did, nonetheless, entice the eye of microchip producers when amorphous hafnia turned out to be a really environment friendly gate insulator in transistors. Noheda: “By changing the normal silicon oxide with hafnia, transistors could possibly be made smaller.”

Noheda’s curiosity within the materials stems from her work for the Groningen Cognitive Programs and Supplies Middle (CogniGron), of which she is the scientific director. The goal of CogniGron is to create a neuromorphic computing structure. Hafnia is among the supplies which might be studied there. “In a paper revealed by Science in 2021, we describe how switching would not simply happen merely by dipoles. We discovered that the motion of additionally performs a job,” says Noheda.


Hafnia behaves like a ferroelectric, however it retains its properties solely on the nanometer scale. Noheda: “Ferroelectrics gave the impression to be out of the race as contenders for very small non-volatile RAM, however with hafnia, they’re now within the lead.” That mentioned, it seems that hafnia doesn’t precisely behave like a ferroelectric. “We have to perceive this to completely use its potential,” says Noheda. “And I imagine that we’re getting there. As talked about, the motion of oxygen vacancies seems to be essential for its properties.”

Noheda additionally factors to a different idea that must be taken into consideration: the in nanoparticles. “The reveals that the comparatively massive floor space of those particles creates the equal of a particularly excessive strain in hafnium dioxide, which seems to play a job within the properties of this materials.”

Any such information is necessary within the seek for different supplies that behave like hafnium. “Hafnium shouldn’t be probably the most sustainable possibility for microchip manufacturing because the worldwide provides are too small. By on the lookout for supplies with related properties, we would discover a higher candidate.” One possibility could possibly be zirconium.

Neuromorphic chips

Discovering a sustainable various for hafnium may speed up the usage of ferroelectrics in RAM reminiscence. And because the dipole power will depend on the historical past of the that generates the dipoles, it will be a perfect materials to provide memristors, which permits intermediate values between de traditional binary values of 0 and 1.

Such analog units may behave just like the neurons in our mind and could be candidates for a neuromorphic laptop structure. “We’re working in direction of such neuromorphic chips. However first, we should totally perceive the physics of hafnium dioxide and related supplies.”

Extra info:
Beatriz Noheda et al, Classes from hafnium dioxide-based ferroelectrics, Nature Supplies (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41563-023-01507-2

Exploring the properties of very skinny hafnium dioxide (2023, June 20)
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