Evidence for thermally assisted threshold switching behavior in nanoscale phase-change memory cells
In spite of decades of research, the details of electrical transport in phase-change materials are still debated. In particular, the so-called threshold switching phenomenon that allows the current density to increase steeply when a sufficiently high voltage is applied is still not well understood, even though there is wide consensus that threshold switching is solely of electronic origin. However, the high thermal efficiency and fast thermal dynamics associated with nanoscale phase-change memory (PCM) devices motivate us to reassess a thermally assisted threshold switching mechanism, at least in these devices. The time/temperature dependence of the threshold switching voltage and current in doped Ge2Sb2Te5 nanoscale PCM cells was measured over 6 decades in time at temperatures ranging from 40 °C to 160 °C. We observe a nearly constant threshold switching power across this wide range of operating conditions. We also measured the transient dynamics associated with threshold switching as a function of the applied voltage. By using a field- and temperature-dependent description of the electrical transport combined with a thermal feedback, quantitative agreement with experimental data of the threshold switching dynamics was obtained using realistic physical parameters.