Discovery could lengthen lifespan of electronic devices

Nobel Prize winner Herbert Cromer once called it “interface device.” Observations by Sydney researchers may therefore spark a new debate over whether interfaces – which are physical boundaries separating individual regions into materials – are a viable solution to the unreliability of next-generation devices.

“Our discovery has indicated that interfaces can actually accelerate ferroelectric degradation. Therefore, a better understanding of these processes is required to achieve the best performance of the devices,” said Dr. Chen.

Ferroelectric materials are used in many devices, including memories, capacitors, actuators, and sensors. These devices are commonly used in both consumer and industrial equipment, such as computers, medical ultrasound equipment, and underwater sonar.

Over time, ferroelectric materials are repeatedly subjected to mechanical and electrical loading, leading to a progressive decrease in their functionality, resulting in eventual failure. This process is called ‘ferroelectric fatigue’.

This is the main reason for the failure of a series of electronic devices, discarded electronics being a leading contributor to e-waste. Globally, tens of millions of failed electronic equipment goes to landfill every year.

Using advanced in-situ electron microscopy, researchers from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering were able to observe ferroelectric fatigue as it occurred. This technique uses an advanced microscope to ‘see’, in real time, at the nanoscale and atomic level.

The researchers hope that this new observation described in a paper published in Nature Communications will help to better inform the future design of ferroelectric nanodevices.

“Our discovery is an important scientific breakthrough because it shows a clear picture of how the ferroelectric corrosion process exists at the nanoscale,” said co-author Professor Jiazhou Liao of the University of Sydney Nano Institute.

The study’s lead researcher, Drs. Qianwei Huang said: “Although it has been known for a long time that ferroelectric fatigue can shorten the lifespan of electronic devices, how this happens has not been well understood before, due to the lack of suitable technology to visualize it . ”

Co-authors Dr. Zibin Chen said: “With this, we hope to better inform the engineering of devices with a better life span.”

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