To identify the degradation mechanism in magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs) using hydrogen, the properties of the MTJs were measured by applying an additional hydrogen etch process and a hydrogen plasma process to the patterned MTJs. In these studies, an additional 50 s hydrogen etch process caused the magnetoresistance (MR) to decrease from 103% to 14.7% and the resistance (R) to increase from 6.5 kΩ to 39 kΩ. Moreover, an additional 500 s hydrogen plasma process decreased the MR from 103% to 74% and increased R from 6.5 kΩ to 13.9 kΩ. These results show that MTJs can be damaged by the hydrogen plasma process as well as by the hydrogen etch process, as the atomic bonds in MgO may break and react with the exposed hydrogen gas. Compounds such as MgO hydrate very easily. We also calculated the damaged layer width (DLW) of the patterned MTJs after the hydrogen etching and plasma processes, to evaluate the downscaling limitations of spin-transfer-torque magnetic random-access memory (STT-MRAM) devices. With these calculations, the maximum DLWs at each side of the MTJ, generated by the etching and plasma processes, were 23.8 nm and 12.8 nm, respectively. This result validates that the hydrogen-based MTJ patterning processes cannot be used exclusively in STT-MRAMs beyond 20 nm.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)