Complex Oxide Materials Make Room for Developing New Type of Computer Chips

An ORNL study found that complex oxide materials can self-organize into electrical circuits, which creates the possibility for new types of computer chips. (CREDIT: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are currently analyzing the behavior of nanoscale materials. The outstanding behavior identified by them could help improve microprocessors beyond the existing silicon-based chips.

This research featuring on the cover of Advanced Electronic Materials demonstrates that a single crystal complex oxide material tends to behave like a multi-component electrical circuit when limited to micro- and nanoscales. This behavior originates from a unique feature of specific complex oxides known as phase separation, in which small regions in the material display extremely different magnetic and electronic properties.

This explains the fact that separate nanoscale regions in complex oxide materials are capable of acting as self-organized circuit elements, which may support the latest multifunctional types of computing architectures.

Within a single piece of material, there are coexisting pockets of different magnetic and/or electronic behaviors. What was interesting in this study was that we found we can use those phases to act like circuit elements. The fact that it is possible to also move these elements around offers the intriguing opportunity of creating rewritable circuitry in the material.

Zac Ward, ORNL

It is possible to control the material in different ways as the phases respond to both electrical and magnetic fields, resulting in the likelihood for new varieties of computer chips.

“It’s a new way of thinking about electronics, where you don’t just have electrical fields switching off and on for your bits,” Ward said. “This is not going for raw power. It’s looking to explore completely different approaches towards multifunctional architectures where integration of multiple outside stimuli can be done in a single material.”

With the computer industry looking to surpass the limitations of silicon-based chips, the ORNL proof-of-principle experiment highlights that phase separated materials can be considered as a way ahead of the “one-chip-fits-all” approach. A multifunctional chip, unlike a chip capable of performing only one role, could manage a number of outputs and inputs that are customized to meet the requirements of a particular application.

Typically you would need to link several different components together on a computer board if you wanted access to multiple outside senses. One big difference in our work is that we show certain complex materials already have these components built in, which may cut down on size and power requirements.

Zac Ward, ORNL

The researchers used a material known as LPCMO to demonstrate their approach. However, Ward highlights that other phase-separated materials comprise varied properties that engineers could tap into.

“The new approach aims to increase performance by developing hardware around intended applications,” he said. “This means that materials and architectures driving supercomputers, desktops, and smart phones, which each have very different needs, would no longer be forced to follow a one-chip-fits-all approach.”

The research has been published under the title “Multimodal Responses of Self-Organized Circuitry in Electronically Phase Separated Materials.” Coauthors are Andreas Herklotz, Hangwen Guo, Anthony Wong, Ho Nyung Lee, Philip Rack and Thomas (Zac) Ward.

The work was supported by DOE’s Office of Science and used resources at the ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, which is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

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