New Materials Yield Energy Boost for Data Storage
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have combined thin-film materials to create more stable building blocks for nonvolatile memory. The approach promises to boost energy while stabilizing performance and eventually ushering in smaller and more powerful storage devices. Limitations in the energy scaling of a property known as perpendicular magnetic anisotropy (PMA) have hampered efforts to develop ultra-dense storage and memory devices. (Wood is an example of an anisotropic material, that is, directionally dependent, or stronger along its grain than against.) Among the problems with many memory materials is that current combinations are volatile, meaning data can be lost when power is turned off. The university researchers said they used a new combination of thin films to fashion non-volatile memory along with what they claim is “unprecedented” PMA. “Our research points to this new combination as a much safer option,” said lead researcher Jiadong Zang, an assistant professor of physics. The results could lead to smaller, more stable MRAM storage devices that could help eliminate data loss, the researchers reported the March edition of the journal Science Advances. “There is a huge movement to switch to magnetic random-access memory for storage in computers because it is more stable,” added Zang. “Not only is data storage safer, but there is also less radiation emitted from the device.” Zang and co-author Jie-Xiang Yu noted in their paper that a long search for new materials has been fruitless, with the energy scale of PMA in “transition” metal thin films stuck at about 1 million electron volts (meV). The university researchers report they used an iron nitride substrate to increase anisotropic energy to 50 meV, allowing for larger amounts of data to be stored in smaller devices. “Therefore, giant PMA in this thin film can ultimately lead to nano-magnetism and promote revolutionary ultrahigh storage density in the future,” the researchers reported. The materials research at the University of New Hampshire was funded by the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Science. The patent-pending technology is available for licensing. The advance comes as nonvolatile memory and storage move into the mainstream for handling data-intensive workloads. Chip makers such as Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) are promoting new memory approaches based on its 3-D Xpoint (“cross point”) architecture as a way to boost data storage in clogged enterprise datacenters.