CONFINED CELL STRUCTURES AND METHODS OF FORMING CONFINED CELL STRUCTURES
Techniques for reducing damage in memory cells are provided. Memory cell structures are typically formed using dry etch and/or planarization processes which damage certain regions of the memory cell structure. In one or more embodiments, certain regions of the cell structure may be sensitive to damage. For example, the free magnetic region in magnetic memory cell structures may be susceptible to demagnetization. Such regions may be substantially confined by barrier materials during the formation of the memory cell structure, such that the edges of such regions are protected from damaging processes. Furthermore, in some embodiments, a memory cell structure is formed and confined within a recess in dielectric material.
This application is a divisional of U.S. application Ser. No. 13/079,652, entitled “CONFINED CELL STRUCTURES AND METHODS OF FORMING CONFINED CELL STRUCTURES” filed Apr. 4, 2011, the specification of which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety for all purposes.BACKGROUND
1. Field of Invention
Embodiments of the invention relate generally to memory, and more particularly, to techniques for reducing edge damage in magnetic memory cells.
2. Description of Related Art
This section is intended to introduce the reader to various aspects of art that may be related to various aspects of the present invention, which are described and/or claimed below. This discussion is believed to be helpful in providing the reader with background information to facilitate a better understanding of the various aspects of the present invention. Accordingly, it should be understood that these statements are to be read in this light and not as admissions of prior art.
Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM) is a non-volatile memory technology based on magnetoresistance. Unlike typical Random Access Memory (RAM) technologies which store data as electric charge, MRAM data is stored by magnetoresistive elements. Generally, the magnetoresistive elements in an MRAM cell are made from two magnetic regions, each of which holds a magnetization. The magnetization of one region (the “pinned region”) is fixed in its magnetic orientation, and the magnetization of the other region (the “free region”) can be changed by an external magnetic field generated by a programming current. Thus, the magnetic field of the programming current can cause the magnetic orientations of the two magnetic regions to be either parallel, giving a lower electrical resistance across the magnetoresistive elements (“0” state), or antiparallel, giving a higher electrical resistance across the magnetoresistive elements (“1” state) of the MRAM cell. The switching of the magnetic orientation of the free region and the resulting high or low resistance states across the magnetoresistive elements provide for the write and read operations of the typical MRAM cell.
A spin torque transfer MRAM (STT-MRAM) cell is another type of memory cell which is programmed by changing the magnetization of magnetoresistive elements. The STT-MRAM cell is written by transmitting a programming current through a magnetic cell stack including a free region and a pinned region. The programming current is polarized by the pinned region to have a spin torque. The spin-polarized current then exerts the torque on the free region, switching the magnetization of the free region. The magnetization of the free region can be aligned to be either parallel or antiparallel to the pinned region, and the resistance state across the stack is changed.
The manufacture of conventional memory cells, including MRAM cells and STT-MRAM cells, may involve a series of steps to form the different regions (e.g., the pinned region, the free region, insulating or conductive regions, etc.) of the cell. However, in typical manufacturing techniques, certain steps may cause damage to the cell structure. For example, dry etching may result in demagnetization of the free region, which may affect the programmability of the magnetic memory cell. Furthermore, as cell structures are manufactured to be increasingly small in size, the effects of such damage may be more detrimental to the function of the cell.
Certain embodiments are described in the following detailed description and in reference to the drawings in which:
A magnetic memory cell is typically programmed by changing a magnetic resistance in the cell. For example, a magnetic memory cell, referred to herein as a cell, may include regions of magnetic materials. During programming, one magnetic region of the cell, referred to as the “free region,” may be switched in magnetization, and another magnetic region, referred to as the “pinned region,” may remain fixed in magnetization. Typically, the free region magnetization may be switched between two opposite directions to be either parallel or antiparallel to the pinned region magnetization. When the magnetizations of the free and pinned regions are parallel, the resistance across the regions may be low, and when the magnetizations of the free and pinned regions are antiparallel, the resistance across the regions may be high. Thus, a magnetic memory cell may be programmed to either a low or a high resistance state by switching the magnetization of the free region.
One example of such a magnetic memory cell is a spin torque transfer magnetic random access memory (STT-MRAM) cell. A programmable structure of the STT-MRAM cell, referred to as a cell structure 10, is illustrated in
The free region 14 and the pinned region 18 may have a barrier region 16 in between, which may be suitable for separating the free and pinned regions 14 and 18 and substantially preventing coupling between the magnetizations of the two regions 14 and 18. For example, the barrier region 16 may include conductive, nonmagnetic materials such as Cu, Au, Ta, Ag, CuPt, CuMn, nonconductive, nonmagnetic materials such as AlxOy, MgOx, AlNx, SiNx, CaOx, NiOx HfOx, TaxOy, ZrOx, NiMnOx, MgFx, SiC, SiOx, SiOxNy, or any combination of the above materials. The cell structure 10 may also include an antiferromagnetic region 20 suitable for fixing the magnetization of the pinned region 18 through exchange coupling, thereby increasing cell stability.
During a write operation of an STT-MRAM cell, a programming current is applied to the cell structure 10 of the cell that is selected for programming. To initiate the write operation, a write current may be generated and passed through a data line, which may each be connected to a top lead 12 or a bottom lead 22 of the cell 10. The top lead 12 and the bottom lead 22 may include conductive materials such as copper and palladium, for example. In some embodiments, the top lead 12 and bottom lead 22 may each be connected to a data/sense line, for example a bit line of the memory cell, such that a programming current may be transmitted longitudinally through the regions of the cell structure 10. As the programming current passes from the bottom lead 22 to the pinned region 18 of the cell structure 10, the electrons of the programming current are spin-polarized by the pinned region 18 to exert a torque on the free region 14, which switches the magnetization of the free region 14 to “write to” or “program” the cell.
In a read operation of the STT-MRAM cell, a current is used to detect the programmed state by measuring the resistance through the cell structure 10. To initiate a read operation, a read current may be generated and passed from a data line through the cell structure 10, from the top lead 12 to the bottom lead 22 (or from the bottom lead 22 to the top lead 12, in some embodiments). The voltage difference between the data lines may be different depending on the resistance through the cell structure 10, thus indicating the programmed state of the STT-MRAM cell. In some embodiments, the voltage difference may be compared to a reference and amplified by a sense amplifier.
Therefore, a memory cell such as an STT-MRAM cell may have multiple regions, including at least a free region 14 and a pinned region 18 arranged such that a programming current can program the cell and read a resistance through the cell structure 10. Typically, such cell structures are manufactured using a series of steps including depositing materials, planarizing deposited materials to form regions in the cell structure, and dry etching the materials to form cell structures having a certain dimension (e.g., having a diameter of 100 nm). However, dry etch processes may damage the edges of the cell structure, which may result in the demagnetization of the free region and/or the pinned region, the generation of electron spin scattering centers, and/or shortages across cell structure. Moreover, as cell structures are increasingly manufactured to be smaller in size (e.g., having a diameter of 50 nm or less), the damage to the edges of the cell structure may be even more detrimental to the performance of the magnetic memory cell due to the larger surface-area-to-volume ratio of the cell structure. An illustration of edge damage is provided in FIG. 2, where the hatched region surrounding the perimeter of the cell structure 10 represents damaged regions 24.
In one or more embodiments, the cell structure 10 may be formed with reduced edge damage (also referred to as etch damage). In the techniques and cell structures illustrated in
Beginning first with
As illustrated in
Barrier materials are then deposited into the recess to form a barrier region 16 in the structure 34a (
Magnetic materials are then directionally deposited over the barrier region 16 to form the free region 14. In some embodiments, a wet etch may be used to remove any excess materials, including magnetic materials deposited on the vertical sidewalls 28. Suitable conductive materials such as copper or palladium may then be deposited over the free region 14 to form a top lead 12 in the structure 36a (
As illustrated in structure 36a (
Therefore, by employing the techniques discussed in
Another embodiment for forming cell structures 10b having reduced edge damage is provided in
Similar to the structures 30 and 32 formed in the process of
In some embodiments, nonmagnetic materials such as silicon nitride (SiN) may be deposited to form the spacer region 48 (
Once the spacer regions 48 are formed, barrier materials may be deposited into the recess such that it is disposed over the spacer region 48 in a vertical (longitudinal) direction and disposed over the pinned region 18 in the horizontal (lateral) direction, forming the barrier region 16. In different embodiments, the deposition of barrier materials may be either a conformal or a directional deposition. Magnetic materials may be directionally deposited over the barrier region 16 to form the free region 14, and conductive materials may be deposited over the free region 14 to form the top lead 12. In between depositions of different materials, a wet etch may be applied to remove excess materials from the sidewalls 28 of the trench. Furthermore, a CMP process may be used to remove excess materials 31 from the top portions of the dielectric material 26 until the planarization reaches the dielectric 26, which may result in a structure 46 (
A larger version of the cell structure 10b formed by the process discussed in
Another embodiment for forming cell structures 10c having reduced edge damage is provided in
A patterned mask may be used to form the antiferromagnetic region 20 and the pinned region 18 over the bottom lead 22. Specifically, as represented by the structure 52a (
In some embodiments, additional dielectric material 26 may be deposited over the original dielectric material 26 and may cover some portions of the pinned region 18, as illustrated in the structure 54a (
Barrier materials may then be conformally or directionally deposited over the structure 54 and into the via 60 to form a barrier region 16, such that all surfaces of the via 60 may be covered by the barrier region 16. The barrier region 16 surrounding the via 60 may also be referred to as the tunnel barrier and may have a U-shaped or cup shaped structure. Magnetic materials may be deposited over the structure 54 and onto the tunnel barrier to form the free region 14, as illustrated in the structure 56a (
In some embodiments, a CMP process may be used to planarize the materials deposited for the free region 14, such that the volume of the free region 14 is substantially contained in the via 60 surrounded by the barrier region 16 in each cell structure 10c. Suitable conductive materials may be deposited to form the top lead 12, as illustrated in the structure 58a (
A larger version of the cell structure 10c formed by the process discussed in
A similar process as that described in
Various embodiments of reducing damage to memory cells are provided, and embodiments are not limited to those illustrated in
Furthermore, it should be noted that while the embodiments illustrated in
While the invention may be susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, specific embodiments have been shown by way of example in the drawings and have been described in detail herein. However, it should be understood that the invention is not intended to be limited to the particular forms disclosed. Rather, the invention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the following appended claims.
1. A confined memory cell structure, comprising:
- a pinned region;
- a free region; and
- a barrier region having a horizontal portion and vertical portions, wherein the horizontal portion is formed between the pinned region and the free region, and wherein the vertical portions surround the periphery of the free region.
2. The confined memory cell structure of claim 1, comprising dielectric materials, wherein the barrier region is formed along sidewalls of an opening in the dielectric materials and along a floor of the opening, wherein the floor of the opening exposes a portion of the pinned region.
3. The confined memory cell structure of claim 1, wherein the pinned region and the free region each comprise Co, Fe, Ni or its alloys, NiFe, CoFe, CoNiFe, CoX, CoFeX, CoNiFeX (X═B, Cu, Re, Ru, Rh, Hf, Pd, Pt, C), Fe3O4, CrO2, NiMnSb and PtMnSb, BiFeO, or some combination of the above materials.
4. The confined memory cell structure of claim 1, wherein the barrier region is suitable for physically separating the pinned region and the free region and suitable for substantially limiting coupling between a magnetization of the free region and a magnetization of the pinned region.
5. The confined memory cell structure of claim 1, comprising a spacer region disposed around a periphery of the vertical portions of the barrier region.
6. The confined memory cell structure of claim 5, comprising a contact disposed over the free region, wherein a periphery of the contact is directly adjacent to a sidewall of the barrier region.
7. The confined memory cell structure of claim 1, wherein the confined memory cell structure comprises for a spin torque transfer magnetic random access memory (STT-MRAM) cell.
8. A method of forming a confined memory cell structure, the method comprising:
- forming a pinned region;
- forming a free region; and
- forming a barrier region on the pinned region, such that a horizontal portion of the barrier region is formed between the pinned region and the free region, and wherein a vertical portion of the barrier region surrounds the periphery of the free region.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein forming the barrier region comprises forming an opening within dielectric materials to expose at least a portion of the underlying pinned region and conformally depositing the barrier region within the opening such that the barrier region covers the at least a portion of the underlying pinned region and sidewalls of the opening.
10. The method of claim 9, wherein forming the free region comprises depositing the free region on the barrier region within the opening.
11. The method of claim 10, comprising forming a top lead on the free region.
12. The method of claim 11, wherein forming the top lead comprises forming the top lead on the free region within the opening.
13. The method of claim 9, wherein forming the opening within the dielectric materials comprises forming a via within the dielectric materials.
14. A method of forming a confined memory cell structure, the method comprising:
- forming a pinned region;
- depositing dielectric materials over the pinned region;
- forming a via in the dielectric materials, wherein the via exposes a portion of the pinned region;
- depositing barrier materials on sidewalls of the via and on the exposed portion of the pinned region to form a tunnel barrier in the via; and
- forming a free region in the tunnel barrier, wherein portions of the tunnel barrier surround the periphery of the free region.
15. The method of claim 14, wherein the pinned region and the free region each comprise ferromagnetic materials.
16. The method of claim 14, wherein the magnetic memory cell structure comprises layers planar to a lateral direction and stacked in a longitudinal direction.
17. The method of claim 14, comprising forming an antiferromagnetic region, wherein the pinned region is formed directly disposed over the antiferromagnetic region.
18. The method of claim 17, wherein the antiferromagnetic region is positioned to achieve exchange coupling with the pinned region.
19. The method of claim 14, comprising forming a conductive contact directly over the free region, such that the free region is substantially confined by the tunnel barrier and the conductive contact.
20. The method of claim 19, wherein a portion of the conductive contact is in a recess surrounded by the tunnel barrier.