New NSF grant “Correlating Device Performance and Interfacial Properties for Weyl Spintronics”

Our group received funding from the National Science Foundation to investigate spin-orbit torques with Weyl semimetals for the next three years.  This work will be performed in collaboration with the group from Prof. Steven May from Drexel University.

This grant supports research into understanding new mechanisms by which electrical currents can be used to switch the magnetic orientation of thin magnetic layers in devices for data processing and storage. The use of current pulses to alter magnetism is central to the operating principles of a variety of electronic and spintronic devices. However, new materials systems are needed to reduce the power consumption required for magnetic switching and to enable future device scaling. This award supports fundamental research to identify quantum materials known as Weyl semimetals that enable significant improvements in the efficiency of current-induced magnetic switching. The project will characterize a variety of Weyl semimetals for use in magnetic devices with emphasis on understanding how the switching metrics are influenced by the interfacial properties between the Weyl semimetal and the magnetic layer. The project will also identify how Weyl semimetals can be used to enable switching of perpendicular magnets to facilitate emerging device concepts. The insights into how new quantum materials can reduce power consumption in electronic and magnetic devices may lead to new advances in electronics and computing devices, providing broad societal benefit. The students’ research training enabled by this project will serve to advance the U.S. economic interests by providing them with the experimental skill set needed to contribute to the technological sector.

This collaborative project will lay the groundwork for low-power spintronic devices through a series of research activities aimed at providing a detailed understanding of spin-orbit torques generated by Weyl semimetals. The charge-to-spin conversion process will be thoroughly characterized at a series of interfaces between Weyl semimetals and ferromagnetic metals to quantify torque efficiencies. The interfacial properties of these same structures will be characterized using resonant x-ray reflectivity, a technique that allows for both the elemental concentration and magnetization to be determined as a function of depth across the interfaces. The correlations between spin-orbit torque efficiency and the composition and magnetic properties of the interfaces will elucidate the roles of intrinsic (Weyl physics) and extrinsic (non-idealities at the interfaces) contributions to the torques. These activities will yield a thorough understanding of spin-orbit torques across real interfaces in device-based structures fabricated using industry-relevant deposition processes. The research will also identify novel spin-orbit torques, including those associated with an out-of-plane spin polarization, enabled by the unique properties of Weyl semimetals and quantify torque metrics relevant for non-volatile magnetic memory devices and thermally driven stochastic oscillators, where the magnetization of the free magnetic layer is controlled via spin-orbit torques. Through these research activities, this project will advance progress toward employing Weyl semimetals in emerging electronic and spintronic device architectures.