A three-terminal approach to developing spin-torque written magnetic random access memory cells

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Using a self-aligned fabrication process together with multiple-step aligned electron beam lithography, we have developed a nanopillar structure where a third contact can be made to any point within a thin-film multilayer stack. This substantially enhances the versatility of the device by providing the means to apply independent electrical biases to two separate parts of the structure. Here, we demonstrate a joint magnetic spin-valve (SV)/tunnel junction structure sharing a common free layer nanomagnet contacted by this third electrode. A spatially nonuniform spin-polarized current flowing into the free layer via the low-resistance SV path can reverse the magnetic orientation of the free layer as a consequence of the spin-torque (ST) effect, by nucleating a reversal domain at the spin injection site that propagates across the free layer. The free layer magnetic state can then be read out separately via the higher resistance magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ). This three-terminal structure provides a strategy for developing high-performance ST magnetic random access memory (ST-MRAM) cells, which avoids the need to apply a large voltage across a MTJ during the writing step, thereby enhancing device reliability, while retaining the benefits of a high-impedance MTJ for read-out. © 2006 IEEE.