Effect of Nitrogen Doping on the Crystallization Kinetics of Ge2Sb2Te5

Nanomaterials (Basel). 2021 Jun 30;11(7):1729. doi: 10.3390/nano11071729.


Among the phase change materials, Ge2Sb2Te5 (GST-225) is the most studied and is already integrated into many devices. N doping is known to significantly improve some key characteristics such as the thermal stability of materials and the resistance drift of devices. However, the origin, at the atomic scale, of these alterations is rather elusive. The most important issue is to understand how N doping affects the crystallization characteristics, mechanisms and kinetics, of GST-225. Here, we report the results of a combination of in situ and ex situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) investigations carried out on specifically designed samples to evidence the influence of N concentration on the crystallization kinetics and resulting morphology of the alloy. Beyond the known shift of the crystallization temperature and the observation of smaller grains, we show that N renders the crystallization process more "nucleation dominated" and ascribe this characteristic to the increased viscosity of the amorphous state. This increased viscosity is linked to the mechanical rigidity and the reduced diffusivity resulting from the formation of Ge-N bonds in the amorphous phase. During thermal annealing, N hampers the coalescence of the crystalline grains and the cubic to hexagonal transition. Making use of AbStrain, a recently invented TEM-based technique, we evidence that the nanocrystals formed from the crystallization of N-doped amorphous GST-225 are under tension, which suggests that N is inserted in the lattice and explains why it is not found at grain boundaries. Globally, all these results demonstrate that the origin of the effect of N on the crystallization of GST-225 is not attributed to the formation of a secondary phase such as a nitride, but to the ability of N to bind to Ge in the amorphous and crystalline phases and to unbind and rebind with Ge along the diffusion path of this atomic species during annealing.

Keywords: Ge2Sb2Te5; crystallization; kinetics; nitrogen; phase change materials; strain.