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Barrier breakdown mechanism in nano-scale perpendicular magnetic tunnel junctions with ultrathin MgO barrier

: Lv, Hua; Leitao, Diana C.; Hou, Zhiwei; Freitas, Paulo P.; Cardoso, Susana; Kämpfe, Thomas; Müller, Johannes; Langer, Juergen; Wrona, Jerzy

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AIP Advances 8 (2018), Nr.5, Art. 055908, 6 S.
ISSN: 2158-3226
Zeitschriftenaufsatz, Elektronische Publikation
Fraunhofer IPMS ()

Recently, the perpendicular magnetic tunnel junctions (p-MTJs) arouse great interest because of its unique features in the application of spin-transfer-torque magnetoresistive random access memory (STT-MRAM), such as low switching current density, good thermal stability and high access speed. In this paper, we investigated current induced switching (CIS) in ultrathin MgO barrier p-MTJs with dimension down to 50 nm. We obtained a CIS perpendicular tunnel magnetoresistance (p-TMR) of 123.9% and 7.0 Ω·μm2 resistance area product (RA) with a critical switching density of 1.4×1010 A/m2 in a 300 nm diameter junction. We observe that the extrinsic breakdown mechanism dominates, since the resistance of our p-MTJs decreases gradually with the increasing current. From the statistical analysis of differently sized p-MTJs, we observe that the breakdown voltage (Vb) of 1.4 V is 2 times the switching voltage (Vs) of 0.7 V and the breakdown process exhibits two different breakdown states, unsteady and steady state. Using Simmons’ model, we find that the steady state is related with the barrier height of the MgO layer. Furthermore, our study suggests a more efficient method to evaluate the MTJ stability under high bias rather than measuring Vb. In conclusion, we developed well performant p-MTJs for the use in STT-MRAM and demonstrate the mechanism and control of breakdown in nano-scale ultrathin MgO barrier p-MTJs.