A team of researchers from Tokyo Institute of Technology has gained unprecedented insight into the inner workings of an atomic switch. By investigating the composition of the tiny metal ‘bridge’ that forms inside the switch, their findings may spur the design of atomic switches with improved performance.

Atomic switches are hailed as the tiniest of electrochemical switches, and they could change the face of information technology. Due to their nanoscale dimensions and low power consumption, they hold promise for integration into next-generation circuits that could drive the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Although various designs have emerged, one intriguing question concerns the nature of the metallic filament, or bridge, that is key to the operation of the switch. The bridge forms inside a metal sulfide layer sandwiched between two electrodes, and is controlled by applying a voltage that induces an electrochemical reaction. The formation and annihilation of this bridge determines whether the switch is on or off.

Now, a research group including Akira Aiba and Manabu Kiguchi and colleagues at Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemistry has found a useful way to examine precisely what the bridge is composed of.

By cooling the atomic switch enough so as to be able to investigate the bridge using a low-temperature measurement technique called point contact spectroscopy (PCS), their study revealed that the bridge is made up of metal atoms from both the electrode and the metal sulfide layer. This surprising finding controverts the prevailing notion that the bridge derives from the electrode only, Kiguchi explains.

Stay on top of the latest Science News. Learn about chemistry , and the other interesting topics. Subscribe for free »

The team compared atomic switches with different combinations of electrodes (Pt and Ag, or Pt and Cu) and metal sulfide layers (Cu2S and Ag2S). In both cases, they found that the bridge is mainly composed of Ag.

The reason behind the dominance of Ag in the bridge is likely due to “the higher mobility of Ag ions compared to Cu ions,” the researchers say in their paper published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

They conclude that “it would be better to use metals with low mobility” for designing atomic switches with higher stability.

Much remains to be explored in the advancement of atomic switch technologies, and the team is continuing to investigate which combination of elements would be the most effective in improving performance.

Provided by: Tokyo Institute of Technology

More information: A. Aiba et al. Investigation of Ag and Cu Filament Formation Inside the Metal Sulfide Layer of an Atomic Switch Based on Point-Contact SpectroscopyACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2019). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.9b05523

Image: The ‘bridge’ that forms within the metal sulfide layer, connecting two metal electrodes, results in the atomic switch being turned on.
Credit: Manabu Kiguchi