Physicists measure current-induced torque in nonvolatile magnetic memory devices

Cornell University researchers have discovered a new way of measuring and optimizing their performance.

Story content courtesy of Cornell University, US

Using a very fast oscilloscope, researchers led by Dan Ralph, the Horace White Professor of Physics, and Robert Buhrman, the J.E. Sweet Professor of Applied and Engineering Physics, have figured out how to quantify the strength of current-induced torques used to write information in memory devices called magnetic tunnel junctions.

Cornell researchers are studying a new generation of magnetic devices that can write information without using magnetic fields. They are using a mechanism called “spin torque,” which arises from the idea that electrons have a fundamental spin. When the electrons interact with the magnets in the tunnel junctions, they transfer some of their angular momentum. This can provide a very strong torque per unit current, and has been demonstrated to be at least 500 times more efficient than using magnetic fields to write magnetic information, Ralph said.

The researchers hope such experiments will help industry make better nonvolatile memory devices by understanding exactly how to structure them, and also, what materials would best be used as the oxide insulators and the ferromagnets surrounding them.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research, and included collaborators Chen Wang, graduate student and first author; graduate student Yong-Tao Cui; and Jordan A. Katine from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

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