Journal of Applied Physics

Observation and modeling of polycrystalline grain formation in Ge 2Sb 2Te 5

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The relationship between the polycrystalline nature of phase change materials (such as Ge 2Sb 2Te 5) and the intermediate resistance states of phase change memory (PCM) devices has not been widely studied. A full understanding of such states will require knowledge of how polycrystalline grains form, how they interact with each other at various temperatures, and how the differing electrical (and thermal) characteristics within the grains and at their boundaries combine through percolation to produce the externally observed electrical (and thermal) characteristics of a PCM device. We address the first of these tasks (and introduce a vehicle for the second) by studying the formation of fcc polycrystalline grains from the as-deposited amorphous state in undoped Ge 2Sb 2Te 5. We perform ex situ transmission electron microscopy membrane experiments and then match these observations against numerical simulation. Ramped-anneal experiments show that the temperature ramp-rate strongly influences the median grain size. By truncating such ramped-anneal experiments at various peak temperatures, we convincingly demonstrate that the temperature range over which these grains are established is quite narrow. Subsequent annealing at elevated temperature appears to change these established distributions of grain sizes only slightly. Our numerical simulator-which models nuclei formation through classical nucleation theory and then tracks the subsequent time- and temperature-dependent growth of these grains-can match these experimental observations of initial grain distributions and crystallization temperature both qualitatively and quantitatively. These simulations show that the particular narrow temperature range over which crystallization occurs shifts as a function of temperature ramp-rate, which allows us to quantify the lower portions of the time-temperature-transformation map for Ge 2Sb 2Te 5. Future experiments and extensions of the simulator to investigate temperature-dependent interactions between neighboring grains, and to study nucleation from within the melt-quenched amorphous state, are discussed. © 2012 American Institute of Physics.