Resonant bonding in crystalline phase-change materials

Nat Mater. 2008 Aug;7(8):653-8. doi: 10.1038/nmat2226. Epub 2008 Jul 11.


The identification of materials suitable for non-volatile phase-change memory applications is driven by the need to find materials with tailored properties for different technological applications and the desire to understand the scientific basis for their unique properties. Here, we report the observation of a distinctive and characteristic feature of phase-change materials. Measurements of the dielectric function in the energy range from 0.025 to 3 eV reveal that the optical dielectric constant is 70-200% larger for the crystalline than the amorphous phases. This difference is attributed to a significant change in bonding between the two phases. The optical dielectric constant of the amorphous phases is that expected of a covalent semiconductor, whereas that of the crystalline phases is strongly enhanced by resonant bonding effects. The quantification of these is enabled by measurements of the electronic polarizability. As this bonding in the crystalline state is a unique fingerprint for phase-change materials, a simple scheme to identify and characterize potential phase-change materials emerges.