Effect of Bilayer CeO2−x/ZnO and ZnO/CeO2−x Heterostructures and Electroforming Polarity on Switching Properties of Non-volatile Memory
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Memory devices with bilayer CeO2−x/ZnO and ZnO/CeO2−x heterostructures sandwiched between Ti top and Pt bottom electrodes were fabricated by RF-magnetron sputtering at room temperature. N-type semiconductor materials were used in both device heterostructures, but interestingly, change in heterostructure and electroforming polarity caused significant variations in resistive switching (RS) properties. Results have revealed that the electroforming polarity has great influence on both CeO2−x/ZnO and ZnO/CeO2−x heterostructure performance such as electroforming voltage, good switching cycle-to-cycle endurance (~ 102), and ON/OFF ratio. A device with CeO2−x/ZnO heterostructure reveals good RS performance due to the formation of Schottky barrier at top and bottom interfaces. Dominant conduction mechanism of high resistance state (HRS) was Schottky emission in high field region. Nature of the temperature dependence of low resistance state and HRS confirmed that RS is caused by the formation and rupture of conductive filaments composed of oxygen vacancies.
KeywordsHeterostructure Resistive switching Effect of polarity Cerium oxide Schottky emission Conduction mechanism
Bipolar resistive switching
High resistance state
High-resolution transmission electron microscopy
Low resistance state
Resistive random access memory
Unipolar resistive switching
Conventional flash memories are facing their physical and practical limits, so searching of new possible candidates for non-volatile memory applications has become very much necessary. Regarding this, several new memory types have been suggested as the next-generation non-volatile memory candidates [1, 2]. Among these, resistive random access memory (RRAM) is being considered as the best candidate for the replacement of conventional memories due to its unique features such as high scaling capability, long memory holding time, smaller device size, fast switching speed, low energy utilization, non-volatility, and simple structure . The memory cell of RRAM is a capacitor-like, metal-oxide-metal (MOM) structure. The bipolar resistive switching (BRS) and unipolar RS (URS) behaviors between two resistance states, i.e., low resistance state (LRS) and high resistance state (HRS) of a resistor film, can be achieved by applying external voltage with appropriate magnitude and polarities [4, 5, 6].
The switching performance of a RS device depends on the uniformity of SET-voltage, RESET-voltage, and current levels at LRS and HRS . These switching parameters are influenced by the film dielectrics, electrode materials, and fabrication/operation technique. Numerous models have been proposed so far to explain the dependence of switching characteristics upon these parameters. The switching behavior can be categorized either as bulk-limited or interface-limited . For bulk-limited-type switching, switching parameters are strongly dependent upon permittivity of the dielectric films . However, electrode-limited switching is due to electron correlation at the metal-dielectric interface and the work function of electrode materials . The interface between an anode and dielectric film may also affect the RS parameters of a memory device [10, 11].
Among several oxides, ceria (CeO2) has been found to be a promising material for RS memory device applications due to its large dielectric constant (~ 26), lower Gibbs free energy (− 1024 kJ/mol), two oxidation (Ce+ 4 to Ce+ 3) states, and distribution of vacancies (particularly oxygen vacancies) in a non-stoichiometric pattern [12, 13]. On the other hand, zinc oxide (ZnO), due to its exceptional properties, is extensively being used in various applications. It is noted that ZnO is being utilized as a dielectric owing to its optical transparency, wide band gap, chemical stability, and high resistivity (105 Ω-cm) . Recently, bilayer RS memory structures have been proposed to show superior properties over single layer-based devices in terms of reduction of electroforming and/or SET/RESET voltages, uniformity improvement in switching, long endurance, and self-compliance . Xu et al.  investigated the RS behavior of ZrO2 and ZnO double-layer stacks illustrating that migration of oxygen vacancies depend upon the height of oxide interfacial barrier. RS behavior observed in the bilayer MnO/CeO2 structure was proposed to be due to the oxidation and reduction reaction of CeO2 as reported by Hu et al. . Yang et al.  revealed good resistive switching characteristics of bilayer CuO/ZnO devices as compared to single-layer ZnO-based devices. Park et al.  demonstrated more reliable and reproducible RS operation observed in Pt/TiOx/ZnO/Pt memory cells than that noted in Pt/ZnO/Pt memory cells. Hsieh et al.  described that Ni/ZnO/HfO2/Ni devices exhibited bipolar resistive switching behavior with multilevel characteristics during the RESET process. All such improved RS characteristics motivated deep investigations of bilayer either as ZnO/CeO2 or as CeO2/ZnO heterostructures, since no study on these stacks and the influence of forming polarity on their RS characteristics and their memory performance has yet been reported.
In this work, we have reported the influence of bilayer heterostructure as well as electroforming polarity on the RS properties of ZnO/CeO2−x and CeO2−x/ZnO-based memory devices. Results have shown that the positively electroformed CeO2−x/ZnO devices and negatively electroformed ZnO/CeO2−x devices demonstrate lower electroforming voltages and much better cycle-to-cycle switching endurance (~ 102) performance. Temperature dependence of LRS and HRS resistances of these bilayer devices with opposite biasing polarities indicates that the observed RS mechanism can be explained by oxygen vacancies-based conducting channels.
Two kinds of Ti/CeO2/ZnO/Pt and Ti/ZnO/CeO2/Pt heterostructure devices were prepared in this work for comparative study. For fabrication of first Ti/CeO2/ZnO/Pt heterostructure device, an active layer of ZnO thin film (~ 10 nm) was deposited on commercial Pt/Ti/SiO2/Si (Pt) substrates at room temperature by radio frequency (RF) magnetron sputtering using ZnO (99.99% pure) ceramic target. During deposition, RF power of 75 W and pressure of ~ 10 mTorr under Ar:O2 (6:18) mixture (flow rate = 24 sccm) were maintained. Then, CeO2 layer (5 nm) was deposited on ZnO/Pt by RF magnetron sputtering under the same conditions to form bilayer CeO2/ZnO heterostructure. Finally, Pt/Ti top electrode (TE) was deposited on both of these heterostructures by sequential direct current (DC) magnetron sputtering using metal shadow mask. This technique produced circular devices (memory cells) with a diameter of 150 μm. Here, Pt was used as a protective layer to shield Ti TE from oxidation. In the same way, a second Ti/ZnO/CeO2/Pt heterostructure device was also fabricated under the same conditions as maintained for Ti/CeO2/ZnO/Pt heterostructures. Both Ti/CeO2/ZnO/Pt and Ti/ZnO/CeO2/Pt heterostructure memory devices were characterized by Agilent B1500A semiconductor parameter analyzer using a standard two-probe measurement method. The bilayer structure of these devices was characterized using cross-view high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM-JEM 2001F).
Results and Discussion
According to our previous study , RS characteristics of single-layer Ti/CeO2−x/Pt device were attributed to the formation of a TiO interfacial layer that plays a key character in the creation and rupture of conductive filamentary paths. Warule et al. proposed that RS behavior in the Ti/ZnO/Pt devices was induced by the creation and disconnection of oxygen vacancies-based conductive filaments . In addition, forming-free phenomenon in Ti/ZnO/Pt devices is related with the existence of a considerable amount of oxygen vacancies in the as-prepared Ti/ZnO/Pt devices [32, 33, 34]. Schottky barrier at the ZnO/Pt interface can be eliminated by the existence of an adequate amount of oxygen vacancies in the ZnO film, resulting in an Ohmic contact at ZnO/Pt interface. Accordingly, the formation of TiO interfacial layer can be associated with the RS effect in bilayer ZnO/CeO2−x and CeO2−x/ZnO heterostructures. It is well known that Ti is highly reactive metal with atmospheric oxygen: therefore, it can easily form TiO layer at Ti/oxide interface . In Ti/ZnO/CeO2−x/Pt heterostructure memory device, ZnO is n-type semiconductor and contains a lot of oxygen vacancies in it, so an Ohmic contact is formed at Ti/ZnO interface . As Ti and ZnO have approximately the same work functions, so, Ti is unable to extract oxygen ions from ZnO to create a TiO interfacial layer. It has been reported that non-lattice oxygen ions and oxygens related with lattice defects exist in ZnO films . Due to deposition of ceria (CeO2) by RF sputtering at room temperature, fabricated CeO2 films are polycrystalline in nature. So ceria films can be non-stoichiometric as we have already proved in our earlier research work that ceria is reduced to CeO2−x . Hu et al.  also reported such reduction of CeO2 during deposition to CeO2−x. Defects in the CeO2−x films are insufficient to mobilize oxygen ions. Therefore, CeO2−x layer serves as oxygen reservoir in Ti/ZnO/CeO2−x/Pt heterostructure. Gibb’s energy for formation of CeO2 is much smaller (− 1024 kJ/mol) than that of ZnO (− 318.52 kJ/mol) as described earlier, so there exists non-lattice oxygens in ZnO due to its non-stoichiometric nature, which move toward CeO2 layer even in the absence of external bias . Therefore, when Ti TE is deposited on ZnO, no interfacial layer is expected to form between Ti and ZnO, although Gibbs energy of formation of TiO is smaller than that of ZnO. When positive voltage is applied to the TE, oxygen ions are attracted toward the CeO2−x/Pt interface and conductive filaments are generated with oxygen vacancies due to their drift and line arrangement abilities.
On the other hand, in Ti/CeO2−x/ZnO/Pt heterostructure memory devices, a very thin interfacial TiO layer is formed at Ti/CeO2−x interface as obvious from HRTEM image (Fig. 1c) and as suggested by our previous study . Gibbs energy of formation of TiO (− 944 kJ/mol) is relatively larger than that of CeO2−x (− 1024 kJ/mol); hence, although Ti due to its high oxygen affinity captures oxygen ions from CeO2−x to form interfacial TiO layer, a part of oxygen ions returns back to CeO2−x layer in the absence/presence of an external negative field . Gibbs energy of oxide formation for TiO and ZnO are − 944 kJ/mol and − 318.52 kJ/mol respectively. Accordingly, one can obtain Gibbs energy of oxide formation for (1/2)CeO2 = − 512 kJ/mol. Comparing with ZnO, oxygen affinity of Ce is little higher than that of Zn so oxygen ions diffuse from ZnO to CeO2−x layer and then to TiO layer from where these ions can migrate to TE, leaving oxygen vacancies in the oxide layers. Consequently, all oxygen ions gather at top interface and conducting filaments with oxygen vacancies are formed between the electrodes. In the presence of opposite biasing polarity, oxygen ions are sent back to the oxide layers, resulting in the filling of oxygen vacancies leading to filament rupture.
The work functions of top Ti and bottom Pt electrodes are 4.33 and 5.65 eV respectively . Electron affinity and work function of ZnO (3.37 eV and 4.35 eV) are higher than those of CeO2 (3.50 eV and 3.2 eV) . So an energy barrier at the ZnO/CeO2−x interface is expected, like the Schottky barrier. In the positive voltage regime, electrons cannot be easily injected through the defects in CeO2 by Pt bottom electrode to the ZnO layer because work function of ZnO is higher than CeO2. That is why electrons are less capable of drifting from ZnO to Ti top electrode, as Ti is unable to attract oxygen ions from ZnO due to their similar work functions. The barrier height at the top Ti/ZnO and CeO2−x/Pt bottom interfaces is respectively 0.05 eV and 2.45 eV, barrier height at CeO2/Pt bottom interface is higher so electrons cannot be triggered easily from metal to dielectric, which results in the formation of a Schottky barrier at the bottom interface .
In the positive voltage region, on the other hand, electrons can be easily injected through the defects in ZnO from Pt electrode to the CeO2−x layer. These electrons are then drifted from CeO2−x layer to Ti top electrode. The barrier heights of top Ti/CeO2−x (1.13 eV) and bottom ZnO/Pt (2.28 eV) interfaces suggest a Schottky emission as shown in Fig. 8c, d. When a negative voltage is swept to Ti top electrode, electron injection from top electrode is controlled by this Schottky barrier at Ti/CeO2−x interface, because trapping and de-trapping phenomena can easily occur at the lower barrier (1.13 eV). Oxygen ions can be migrated to Ti/CeO2−x interface by applying a positive voltage. The RS mechanism in Ti/CeO2−x/ZnO/Pt heterostructure memory device can be explained by the creation and dissolution of conducting filaments with oxygen vacancies in the oxide layers . It means that oxygen ions can thus move back and forth between Ti/CeO2−x interface and oxide layers by two opposite polarities of the external bias. When a positive voltage is swept on Ti electrode, oxygen ions are drifted from CeO2−x/ZnO to Ti/CeO2−x interface. The conducting filaments with oxygen vacancies are formed in the oxide layer, and consequently, resistance state is switched from OFF- (HRS) to ON-state (LRS). When a negative voltage is swept on Ti TE, process of de-trapping is started and oxygen ions gathered at Ti/CeO2−x interface are moved back toward the bottom electrode. The conducting filaments are ruptured due to the migration of oxygen ions. The device is thus switched back again into HRS. Based on the current results, we have investigated the effect of device heterostructure such as CeO2−x/ZnO and ZnO/CeO2−x and electroforming polarity on resistive switching parameters for possible applications in resistive random access memory devices. We have noticed that both device structures and their electroforming polarity pose significant influence on switching parameters such as electroforming voltage, memory window, and uniformity in SET/RESET voltages. However, more attention is needed to achieve faster programing/erasing time, higher scalability, electroforming-free, and low cast devices in future research. In particular, work is needed in choosing suitable electrode material, utilizing either nanocrystals or metal ions embedded in an insulating layer and fabricating device on buffer layer structures.
In conclusion, deep investigations on the RS behavior have been made by changing the morphology of bilayer ZnO/CeO2−x and CeO2−x/ZnO heterostructures and sign of electroforming polarities. Significant impact is noticed on the performance, endurance characteristics, electroforming voltages, and uniformity in the operational voltages. Experimental results reveal the formation of TiO interfacial layer in Ti/CeO2−x/ZnO/Pt heterostructure on applying bias of positive polarity, and CeO2−x layer during negative polarity serves as an oxygen reservoir in Ti/ ZnO/CeO2−x/Pt heterostructures. Collectively, it can play an important role for the improvement of uniformity and repeatability of RS parameters. Dominant conduction mechanism in HRS was electrode-limited Schottky emission at a high field region. Temperature dependence of LRS and HRS resistances lead to the conclusion that observed RS mechanism is based on the movement of oxygen vacancies under the applied voltage.
Authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF), funded by the Korean government (MSIP) (2018R1C1B5046454).
The manuscript was written through the contributions of all authors MI, IT, AMR, TA, SJ, JL, and SK. All authors have read and approved the manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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