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Switchable Material Could Enable New Memory Chips

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An electrical voltage can be used to modify the oxygen concentration, and therefore the phase and structure, of strontium cobaltites. Pumping oxygen in and out transforms the material from the brownmillerite form (left) to the perovskite form (right).

The phase and electrical properties of a thin-film material can be controlled through the application of a small voltage, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Credit: Qiyang Lu, Bilge Yildiz

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report they can control the phase and electrical properties of a thin-film material by applying a small voltage.

They were able to switch the phase and electrical properties of strontium cobaltite between metallic and semiconducting using this practical method. The material stays in its new configuration until switched back by another voltage.

"Here for the first time, we demonstrate that electrical bias can induce a phase transition in the material and, in fact, we achieved this by changing the oxygen content" of strontium cobaltite, says MIT professor Bilge Yildiz.

The researchers say the breakthrough could lead to the development of a new kind of nonvolatile computer memory chip that retains information when the power is switched off.

The team used a technique called in-situ X-ray diffraction to observe and demonstrate the material did go through the phase transition when the voltage was applied.

The material also could have applications in fuel cells and electrodes for lithium-ion batteries.

From Technology Review
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