Abstract
In ferromagnetic trilayers, a spinorbitinduced spin current can have a spin polarization of which direction is deviated from that for the spin Hall effect. Recently, magnetization switching in ferromagnetic trilayers has been proposed and confirmed by the experiments. In this work, we theoretically and numerically investigate the switching current required for perpendicular magnetization switching in ferromagnetic trilayers. We confirm that the tilted spin polarization enables fieldfree deterministic switching at a lower current than conventional spinorbit torque or spintransfer torque switching, offering a possibility for highdensity and lowpower spinorbit torque devices. Moreover, we provide analytical expressions of the switching current for an arbitrary spin polarization direction, which will be useful to design spinorbit torque devices and to interpret spinorbit torque switching experiments.
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Introduction
Currentinduced magnetization switching is a basic working principle of magnetic random access memories (MRAMs). Perpendicular MRAMs^{1,2}, which store the magnetic information in a perpendicularly magnetized free layer, are of technological relevance because of better scalability than inplane MRAMs. Currentinduced magnetization switching schemes can be classified into two categories depending on the type of spin torque. One type is the spintransfer torque (STT)^{3,4}, which utilizes a spin current polarized by the exchange splitting of the other ferromagnetic layer. In magnetic tunnel junctions consisting of two ferromagnets (FMs) separated by a thin insulator, one of the FMs supplies a spinpolarized current, which switches the other free FM layer^{5,6}. For the STT switching scheme, the currentperpendiculartoplane (CPP) geometry is inevitable because a charge current must pass through both FMs. The other type is the spinorbit torque (SOT), which utilizes a spin current polarized by the spinorbit coupling of a nearby normal metal (NM). The spinorbit coupling enables the dampinglike SOT through the bulk spin Hall effect^{7,8,9,10} or the interfacial Rashba effect^{11,12,13}. The SOTinduced perpendicular magnetization switching^{14,15} occurs in the currentinplane (CIP) geometry where a charge current flowing in the plane (i.e., x direction) supplies a spin current flowing normal to the plane (i.e, z direction), which in turn exerts a SOT on the free layer. In FM/NM bilayers, the spin polarization carried by a spin current is orthogonal to both directions of the chargecurrent flow (x) and the spincurrent flow (z), and thus is aligned along the y direction.
Compared to the STT switching, the SOT switching has important advantages due to the difference in the writecurrent path (i.e., CPP for STT switching vs CIP for SOT switching). The most important advantage of the SOT switching scheme is that the writecurrent path is separated from the readcurrent path, which naturally resolves the writeread interference^{16}. Moreover, the device endurance is better for the SOT switching because large writing currents do not pass through an insulating layer. However, the SOT switching has two critical issues for device applications at the same time. One is that the switching current is too high. The other is that an additional symmetrybreaking field is required for the deterministic switching of perpendicular magnetization. As a result, much effort has been expended in realizing fieldfree SOT switching at a low current^{17,18,19,20,21,22,23}.
We note that both issues for the SOTinduced perpendicular magnetization switching originate from the fact that the spin polarization (y) of spin current is orthogonal to the equilibrium magnetization direction (z). Because of this orthogonal configuration, the SOT does not directly compete with the damping torque and, as a result, the switching current is independent of or less dependent on the Gilbert damping in comparison to the STT switching^{24,25,26}. As the Gilbert damping is usually much smaller than the unity, this insensitivity to the damping makes the write current of SOT switching high^{24,25,26}. The orthogonal configuration also demands a symmetrybreaking field to achieve the deterministic switching because the SOT tends to align the magnetization in the y direction, not in the z direction.
Recent studies found that it is possible to rotate the spin polarization from the y direction by introducing an additional FM: FM1 (free layer)/NM/FM2 trilayers. The anomalous Hall effect of FM2^{27,28} generates a spin current polarized in \({\hat{{\bf{m}}}}_{2}\), i.e., magnetization direction of FM2. The interfacegenerated spin currents at the NM/FM2 interface^{23,29,30,31} generates a spin current with a spin polarization in \(({\hat{{\bf{m}}}}_{2}\times \hat{{\boldsymbol{y}}})\) through the spinorbit precession process. Therefore, a spin current created in the trilayers can have an additional spinpolarization component in the z direction. This additional spinz spin current in the CIP geometry naturally allows fieldfree deterministic switching of perpendicular magnetization as recently demonstrated in an experiment^{23}. It is expected that the write current would decrease due to the additional spinz spin current^{27}, but the exact expression of switching current in the presence of additional spinz spin current has not been investigated yet.
In this work, we theoretically and numerically investigate the switching current required for perpendicular magnetization switching induced by a spin current with an arbitrary spin polarization direction. Our main purpose is to provide the analytic expression of the switching current, which can be used as a design rule for SOTMRAMs based on the aforementioned ferromagnetic trilayers. As the spin polarization direction is different depending on the mechanism, we do not focus on a specific mechanism but investigate the effect of arbitrary spin polarization directions.
Analytical Analysis
Magnetization dynamics driven by a spin current with an arbitrary spin polarization direction is described by the LandauLifshitzGilbert equation including the both dampinglike torque (DLT) and fieldlike torque (FLT) as,
where \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\) is the unit vector along the magnetization of FM1, \(\hat{{\boldsymbol{\sigma }}}\) is the unit vector along the spin polarization, γ is the gyromagnetic ratio, \({{\bf{H}}}_{{\rm{eff}}}\) is the effective uniaxial anisotropy field \({H}_{K,eff}=2{K}_{eff}/{M}_{s}\) in the z direction, α is the damping constant, \({c}_{j,D(F)}=(\hslash {\theta }_{D(F)}J/2e{M}_{s}{t}_{z})\) is the magnitude of DLT(FLT), \({\theta }_{D(F)}\) is the effective DLT(FLT) efficiency, J is the charge current density flowing in the plane (along the x axis), e is the electron charge, M_{S} is the saturation magnetization, and t_{z} is the thickness of FM1. We assume that \(\hat{{\boldsymbol{\sigma }}}=(0,\,\cos \,\eta ,\,\sin \,\eta )\) is a spin polarization direction, because the system is cylindrical symmetry in the xy plane, and η represents the spinpolarization angle. We express the magnetization vector as \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}=(\cos \,\phi \,\sin \,\theta ,\,\sin \,\phi \,\sin \,\theta ,\,\cos \,\theta )\), where \(\theta \,(0\le \theta \le \pi )\) is the polar angle and \(\phi \,(0\le \phi < 2\pi )\) is the azimuthal angle. In order to derive analytic expressions of the switching current, we ignore FLT because it induces magnetization precession, which complicates magnetization dynamics^{26,32}. We note that the effect of FLT on the switching current is insignificant when \(\hat{{\boldsymbol{\sigma }}}\) has a sizable z component, which will be verified numerically below.
For a charge current density smaller than a switching current density, Eq. (1) has a static solution with the equilibrium tilting angles \({\theta }_{eq}\) and \({\phi }_{eq}\) satisfying:
Depending on η, switching conditions can be classified into two cases. The first case is the instability condition, corresponding to no solutions of \({\theta }_{eq}\) and \({\phi }_{eq}\) satisfying Eqs. (2) and (3). By combining Eqs. (2) and (3), we obtain the switching current density \({J}_{sw,1}\) and tilting angles \(({\theta }_{sw,1},{\phi }_{sw,1})\) for the instability condition as
For η = 0 (thus, \(\hat{{\boldsymbol{\sigma }}}=\hat{{\boldsymbol{y}}}\)), Eqs. (4) and (5) are simplified as
which is consistent (except for the inplane external field) with our previous result^{24}.
The second case is the antidamping condition. In this case, the switching occurs when the DLT overcomes the intrinsic damping torque. Because the SOT directly competes with the damping torque, the magnetization switching occurs through many precessions as for the conventional STT switching. As a result, the switching current can be obtained for the condition that the precession angle becomes larger with time evolution. After rotating the coordinate system to the magnetization tilted by SOT, we use the spinwave ansatz^{33} of \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}=({m}_{x^{\prime} }{e}^{i\omega t},{m}_{y^{\prime} }{e}^{i\omega t},1)\), where \(({{m}_{x^{\prime} }}^{2},{{m}_{y^{\prime} }}^{2})\ll 1\) (here prime means the rotated coordinate), and obtain an equation satisfying the condition that intrinsic damping and SOT are cancelled out (equivalently, the imaginary part of spinwave dispersion vanishes), given as
For the second case, one can obtain the expressions for the switching current density J_{sw,2} and tilting angles \(({\theta }_{sw,2},{\phi }_{sw,2})\) by combining Eqs. (2), (3), and (7). However, the expressions are too long to be presented in the paper. Instead, we show simplified analytic expressions with the assumption of \({\phi }_{sw,2}\approx 0\), which is reasonable for most ranges of η as shown below. The simplified expressions are:
where \(A=\,1+\sqrt{1+6{\alpha }^{2}{\cot }^{2}\eta },\,B=\sqrt{3+\frac{12}{1+\sqrt{1+6{\alpha }^{2}{\cot }^{2}\eta }}}\). When \(\eta =\pi /2\), J_{sw,2} is obtained by taking the limit of \(\eta \to \pi /2\), given as
which is consistent with the switching current density for STT switching.
Numerical results
In order to check the validity and applicability of the above analytic expressions, we perform macrospin simulation by numerically solving Eq. (1). We use following modeling parameters: area of free layer = 900 nm^{2}, ferromagnet thickness \({t}_{z}=1\,{\rm{nm}}\), gyromagnetic ratio \(\gamma =1.76\times {10}^{7}\,{{\rm{Oe}}}^{1}{{\rm{s}}}^{1}\), effective perpendicular anisotropy constant \({K}_{eff}=2\times {10}^{6}\,{\rm{erg}}/{{\rm{cm}}}^{3}\), saturation magnetization \({M}_{s}=1000\,{\rm{emu}}/{{\rm{cm}}}^{3}\), Gilbert damping \(\alpha =0.005\), effective DLT efficiency \({\theta }_{D}=0.3\), effective FLT efficiency \({\theta }_{F}=0\), external magnetic field \({H}_{x}=300\,{\rm{Oe}}\) only for \(\eta =0\,(\hat{{\boldsymbol{\sigma }}}=\hat{{\boldsymbol{y}}})\), current pulsewidth \(\tau =200\,{\rm{ns}}\), and rise/fall time = 0.2 ns.
Figure 1 shows the switching current density (J_{sw}) and tilting angles \(({\theta }_{sw},\,{\phi }_{sw})\) as a function of η and time evolution of \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\). Numerical results (symbols) are in agreement with the analytic solutions (lines). As shown in Fig. 1(a) and its inset, numerically obtained J_{sw} is inconsistent with Eq. (4) (i.e., the instability condition) but is consistent with Eq. (8) (i.e., the antidamping condition) in wide η ranges except for small η. The good agreement between numerically obtained J_{sw} and Eq. (8) justifies the assumption of \({\phi }_{sw,2}\approx 0\) in wide η ranges, which is also seen in Fig. 1(b). Figure 1(c–e) show time evolution of \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\) for different η. When \(\eta =0.002\) [Fig. 1(c)], time evolution of \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\) is similar with conventional SOT switching except that the deterministic switching is achieved without an external field. When \(\eta =0.05\) [Fig. 1(d)] and \(\eta =0.2\) [Fig. 1(e)], \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\) first rotates around the tilted axis, which is similar to the conventional STT switching. After the precession angle reaches a specific value, \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\) stays in a direction tilted from \(\text{}z\) direction while the current is applied [Fig. 1(d) and inset of Fig. 1(e)]. The amount of tilting from \(\text{}z\) direction depends on η and applied current. For all η ranges except for \(\eta =\pi /2\), \(\hat{{\bf{m}}}\) is aligned with \(\text{}z\) direction only after the current is turned off.
The results shown in Fig. 1 indicate that the switching condition changes from the instability condition to the antidamping condition as η (equivalently, the z component of spin polarization) increases. This η dependence of J_{sw} can be understood as follows. J_{sw} is determined by min[J_{sw,1}, J_{sw,2}]. In the small α limit, J_{sw,2} is approximated as
leading to \({J}_{sw,2}/{J}_{sw,1}\approx 2\alpha /\sin \,\eta \). Therefore, for \(2\alpha /\,\sin \eta < 1\), the switching is governed by the antidamping condition, whereas, for \(2\alpha /\,\sin \eta > 1\), the switching is governed by the instability condition. This analysis also sets an approximated critical spinpolarization angle \({\eta }_{c}={\sin }^{1}2\alpha \), above (below) which the switching is governed by the antidamping (instability) condition.
From above results, one finds that J_{sw} becomes small as η increases (i.e., spinz component increases)^{27}, confirming a possibility to resolve the second issue, i.e., high write current for conventional SOT switching. To address this possibility in more detail, we show material parameter and current pulsewidth \((\tau )\) dependences of J_{sw}. Figure 2 shows dependences of J_{sw} on (a) damping constant, (b) effective anisotropy constant, (c) saturation magnetization, and (d) current pulsewidth. Increased damping [Fig. 2(a)] or increased anisotropy [Fig. 2(b)] increases J_{sw}, as expected from Eq. (8). In contrast, the saturation magnetization does not affect J_{sw} [Fig. 2(c)], which is also consistent with Eq. (8). A result that is not captured by Eq. (8) is the pulsewidth dependence J_{sw} [Fig. 2(d)]: J_{sw} increases with decreasing the pulsewidth. This increased J_{sw} at a short current pulse is understood by the fact that the switching occurs through many precessions, which increase the time duration to escape the energy minimum. The results shown in Fig. 2 suggest that η close to \(\pi /2\) (or, equivalently, a large z component of spin polarization) and a small damping are two preconditions to reduce J_{sw}. Even though J_{sw} also reduces with decreasing the anisotropy, it is not a free parameter to maintain a long retention time for nonvolatile applications.
We also numerically study how the FLT and thermal fluctuation affect the switching current. We perform macrospin simulation including Gaussiandistributed random thermal fluctuation fields (mean = 0, standard deviation = \(\sqrt{2\alpha {k}_{B}T/(\gamma {M}_{s}V\delta t)}\), where \(\delta t\) is the integration time step^{34}). We assume that the temperature is 300 K, corresponding to the energy barrier \(\Delta \approx 43.5\) for our parameter set. We repeat simulations 1000 times for each current density to consider the randomness of thermal fluctuation.
Figure 3(a) shows J_{sw} as a function of η for different FLT/DLT \(({\theta }_{F}/{\theta }_{D})\) ratios. We find that J_{sw} exhibit clearly different dependences on η between small η \((\eta < 0.2)\) and large η \((0.2 < \eta )\) ranges. In small η ranges, nondeterministic switching occurs when the sign of FLT is opposite to that of DLT [in our sign conventions; see Eq. (1)]^{26,32}. For the case where the sign of FLT is same with that of DLT, J_{sw} is high in comparison with that with \({\theta }_{F}=0\). In large η ranges, FLT does not significantly affect J_{sw}. This result means that a large η (equivalently, large spinz component of spin current) allows for low J_{sw} and deterministic switching simultaneously regardless of the FLT. Figure 3(b) shows switching probability (P_{sw}) for \(\tau =5\,{\rm{ns}}\) and different spin polarization angles (η) as a function of the current density. One finds that J_{sw} decreases with increasing η, consistent with the above results. For small η (η = 0.002 and 0.02), deterministic switching does not occur due to thermal fluctuation. We also find that, for the parameter set we used, η larger than 0.1 is required for deterministic switching. Figure 3(c) shows switching current (I_{sw}) as a function of τ at various η. Here, we compare I_{sw} for the case where \(\eta \ge 0.2\). I_{sw} is obtained from J_{sw} at \({P}_{sw}=1/2\), multiplied by a cross section area, normal to the currentflow direction. For CIP case, we assume that the cross section area A_{CIP} is \(150\,{{\rm{nm}}}^{2}\) \((=30\,{\rm{nm}}\times 5\,{\rm{nm}})\). For a comparison, we also plot I_{sw} of the conventional spintransfer torque (STT) switching for the spin polarization P of 0.3. For STT switching, we use the cross section area A_{CPP} of \(900\,{{\rm{nm}}}^{2}\) because it is the CPP geometry and thus must be the same as that of free layer. Here we compare I_{sw}, instead of J_{sw}. The reason is that I_{sw} is more relevant to device applications than J_{sw}, because I_{sw}, not J_{sw}, determines the transistor size and thus the device scalability.
The most important observation from Fig. 3(c) is that I_{sw} for SOT with a tilted spin polarization is smaller than that for STT even at τ of 1 ns. Using the approximate solution [Eq. (11)] for SOT switching and I_{sw} for the conventional CPP STT switching^{24}, the ratio I_{sw}(STT)/I_{sw}(SOT) is given by
As A_{CPP}/A_{CIP} is about a factor of 5 for 30 nm MRAM cell, I_{sw}(SOT) is smaller than I_{sw}(STT) when \({\theta }_{SH}\,\sin \,\eta > 0.2P\). This result shows that the SOT with a tilted spin polarization is able to reduce the switching current below those of not only conventional SOT switching but also conventional STT switching.
Discussion
In conclusion, we theoretically and numerically investigate the switching current for SOT switching of perpendicular magnetization in ferromagnetic trilayers. We confirm that the spinz component of spin polarization, originating from either the anomalous Hall effect^{27,28} or the interfacial spinorbit coupling effect^{23,29,30,31}, enables the deterministic switching at a low current. This practically attractive consequences from the tilted spin polarization will be beneficial for SOT memory and logic devices operated at low power. Moreover, analytical expressions of the switching current for an arbitrary spin polarization can be used as a guideline to design SOT devices and also to interpret experimental switching data obtained for unconventional spin currents of which spin polarization is deviated from the y direction by known and yetunknown mechanisms.
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Acknowledgements
This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (Grant No. NRF2015M3D1A1070465) and Samsung Electronics.
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K.J. Lee conceived and supervised the study. D.K. Lee developed an analytical model and performed macrospin simulations. All the authors wrote the manuscript.
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Lee, DK., Lee, KJ. Spinorbit Torque Switching of Perpendicular Magnetization in Ferromagnetic Trilayers. Sci Rep 10, 1772 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598020586691
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598020586691
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