Atomistic simulations of electrochemical metallization cells: mechanisms of ultra-fast resistance switching in nanoscale devices

N Onofrio and D Guzman and A Strachan, NANOSCALE, 8, 14037-14047 (2016).

DOI: 10.1039/c6nr01335j

We describe a new method that enables reactive molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of electrochemical processes and apply it to study electrochemical metallization cells (ECMs). The model, called EChemDID, extends the charge equilibration method to capture the effect of external electrochemical potential on partial atomic charges and describes its equilibration over connected metallic structures, on-the- fly, during the MD simulation. We use EChemDID to simulate resistance switching in nanoscale ECMs; these devices consist of an electroactive metal separated from an inactive electrode by an insulator and can be reversibly switched to a low-resistance state by the electrochemical formation of a conducting filament between electrodes. Our structures use Cu as the active electrode and SiO2 as the dielectric and have dimensions at the foreseen limit of scalability of the technology, with a dielectric thickness of approximately 1 nm. We explore the effect of device geometry on switching timescales and find that nanowires with an electroactive shell, where ions migrate towards a smaller inactive electrode core, result in faster switching than planar devices. We observe significant device-to-device variability in switching timescales and intermittent switching for these nanoscale devices. To characterize the evolution in the electronic structure of the dielectric as dissolved metallic ions switch the device, we perform density functional theory calculations on structures obtained from an EChemDID MD simulation. These results confirm the appearance of states around the Fermi energy as the metallic filament bridges the electrodes and show that the metallic ions and not defects in the dielectric contribute to the majority of those states.

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