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Learning Through Ferroelectric Domain Dynamics in Solid-State Synapses


Learning Through Ferroelectric Domain Dynamics in Solid-State Synapses

Sören Boyn et al. Nat Commun.


In the brain, learning is achieved through the ability of synapses to reconfigure the strength by which they connect neurons (synaptic plasticity). In promising solid-state synapses called memristors, conductance can be finely tuned by voltage pulses and set to evolve according to a biological learning rule called spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). Future neuromorphic architectures will comprise billions of such nanosynapses, which require a clear understanding of the physical mechanisms responsible for plasticity. Here we report on synapses based on ferroelectric tunnel junctions and show that STDP can be harnessed from inhomogeneous polarization switching. Through combined scanning probe imaging, electrical transport and atomic-scale molecular dynamics, we demonstrate that conductance variations can be modelled by the nucleation-dominated reversal of domains. Based on this physical model, our simulations show that arrays of ferroelectric nanosynapses can autonomously learn to recognize patterns in a predictable way, opening the path towards unsupervised learning in spiking neural networks.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Artificial synapses based on FTJs.
(a) Sketch of pre- and post-neurons connected by a synapse. The synaptic transmission is modulated by the causality (Δt) of neuron spikes. (b) Sketch of the ferroelectric memristor where a ferroelectric tunnel barrier of BiFeO3 (BFO) is sandwiched between a bottom electrode of (Ca,Ce)MnO3 (CCMO) and a top submicron pillar of Pt/Co. YAO stands for YAlO3. (c) Single-pulse hysteresis loop of the ferroelectric memristor displaying clear voltage thresholds (formula image and formula image). (d) Measurements of STDP in the ferroelectric memristor. Modulation of the device conductance (ΔG) as a function of the delay (Δt) between pre- and post-synaptic spikes. Seven data sets were collected on the same device showing the reproducibility of the effect. The total length of each pre- and post-synaptic spike is 600 ns.
Figure 2
Figure 2. A memristor governed by nucleation-limited ferroelectric domain switching.
(a) Evolution of the PFM phase and amplitude signals of a ferroelectric memristor under cumulated pulses of 1 V and 100 ns. Cumulative pulses induce a progressive switching with multiple nucleation areas and limited propagation of ferroelectric domains from up (dark phase) to down (bright phase) polarization. The scale bar is 50 nm. (b, top) Normalized switched area as a function of cumulated pulse time calculated from time-dependent transport measurements of a ferroelectric memristor. The black squares indicate the normalized switched area obtained from the PFM measurements in a. (bottom) Corresponding conductance (G) evolution measured as a function of cumulated pulse time. (c) Normalized switched area as a function of cumulated pulse time calculated from time-dependent transport measurements of a ferroelectric memristor at different pulse amplitudes. The black lines are fit results from the nucleation-limited switching model. (d) Examples of Lorentzian distributions of switching times extracted from the fits in c at different pulse amplitudes and (inset) from the MD simulations (Supplementary Fig. 2). (e) Evolution of the switching time (tmean) as a function of the inverse of the electric field (1/E) obtained from fits of the transport data in c and (inset) from MD simulations.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Predicting STDP learning with ferroelectric synapses.
(a) Multiple hysteresis loops of a ferroelectric memristor showing a clear dependence of resistance switching with the maximum pulse amplitudes. (bd) Examples of STDP learning curves of different shapes. The pre- and post-synaptic spikes and conductance variations are shown in the top and bottom panels, respectively. For each device, simultaneous fits of data in a,b (solid lines) using equation (1) allow the prediction of new learning curves in c,d (orange lines).
Figure 4
Figure 4. Unsupervised learning with ferroelectric synapses.
(a) Simulated spiking neural network comprising nine input neurons connected to five output neurons by an array of ferroelectric memristors. The inputs are noisy images of the patterns to recognize: horizontal (A), diagonal (B) and vertical (C) bars in 3 × 3 pixel images. (b) Recognition rate as a function of the number of presented images for different noise levels. The coloured images are conductance maps of the memristors in each line and show their evolution for a noise level of 0.3 (blue line). (c) Behaviour of the network after successful learning. Neurons 1, 2 and 4 emit spikes when inputs C, B and A are presented, respectively. (d) Evolution of the final recognition rate as a function of the amplitude of the post-synaptic spike. Error bars represent s.d.

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