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Nanoscale RRAM-based synaptic electronics: toward a neuromorphic computing device

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IOP PUBLISHING Nanotechnology 24 (2013) 384009 (6pp)



Nanoscale RRAM-based synaptic electronics: toward a neuromorphic computing device

Sangsu Park1 , Jinwoo Noh1 , Myung-lae Choo1 , Ahmad Muqeem Sheri1 , Man Chang2 , Young-Bae Kim2 , Chang Jung Kim2 , Moongu Jeon1 , Byung-Geun Lee1 , Byoung Hun Lee1 and Hyunsang Hwang3
1 3 2

Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, Gwangju 500-712, Korea Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, Yongin-si Gyeonggi-do, 446-712, Korea Pohang University of Science and Technology, Pohang, 790-784, Korea


Received 3 January 2013, in nal form 26 March 2013 Published 2 September 2013 Online at Abstract Efforts to develop scalable learning algorithms for implementation of networks of spiking neurons in silicon have been hindered by the considerable footprints of learning circuits, which grow as the number of synapses increases. Recent developments in nanotechnologies provide an extremely compact device with low-power consumption. In particular, nanoscale resistive switching devices (resistive random-access memory (RRAM)) are regarded as a promising solution for implementation of biological synapses due to their nanoscale dimensions, capacity to store multiple bits and the low energy required to operate distinct states. In this paper, we report the fabrication, modeling and implementation of nanoscale RRAM with multi-level storage capability for an electronic synapse device. In addition, we rst experimentally demonstrate the learning capabilities and predictable performance by a neuromorphic circuit composed of a nanoscale 1 kbit RRAM cross-point array of synapses and complementary metaloxidesemiconductor neuron circuits. These developments open up possibilities for the development of ubiquitous ultra-dense, ultra-low-power cognitive computers. (Some gures may appear in colour only in the online journal)

1. Introduction
Two critical issues associated with the current semiconductor technology are the physical scaling limits of device dimensions and the low energy efciency of von Neumann systems as compared to those of biological systems [15]. The development of biologically inspired neuromorphic systems has attracted considerable interest over the last few years as a means of overcoming both issues [610]. However, progress in implementing neuromorphic hardware systems has been hindered by the difculty associated with fabricating synapses in electronic circuits, as such structures simply require a very large area. An articial brain requires a considerable number and density of synapses (e.g., the density
0957-4484/13/384009+06$33.00 1

is estimated to be 1010 cm2 in the human cortex), and biological synaptic structures are not only dense but also consume miniscule amounts of power and maintain memory storage for long periods of time [11]. Recently, neuronal functions have been successfully mimicked using emerging nanoscale resistive memory (resistive random-access memory (RRAM)) arrays having analog memory capabilities suitable for synapse building; such architectures have been able to achieve high-density (using a 4F2 cell), high-efciency and low-power signal processing. However, a fundamental problem faced by such passive arrays is that sneak paths (parasitic current paths that cause interference between neighboring cells within the array) can be formed, causing the array to lose functionality [12, 13].
c 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd Printed in the UK & the USA

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Figure 1. Hybrid CMOS neuron/RRAM synapse circuit to emulate the biological neuron system.

Various solutions have been proposed to alleviate the misreading problem and to ensure the reliability of high-density memory arrays. One solution involves introduction of a selection device in each cell, and several types of these have been proposed for use in bipolar-type RRAM arrays, including metalinsulator transition devices [14], ovonic threshold switches [15], mixed ionicelectronic conductors [16], and metal-oxide-based metalinsulatormetal devices [17]. However, integration of a selection device increases the complexity and cost of the fabrication process. Instead of relying on external diodes as selectors, a better approach to breaking sneak current paths is to take advantage of the nonlinear currentvoltage (I V ) characteristics inherent to some types of resistive switches [1821]. Other research has focused on developing spike-timingdependent plasticity (STDP) using only individual memory devices [2224]. Ultimately, the implementation of fully functional large-scale neuromorphic systems that can mimic brain functions is limited by the considerable gap that currently exists between the ability to build semiconductor devices and the ability to design systems. To overcome this deciency, we fabricated a real neuromorphic system, which was comprised of complementory metaloxidesemiconductor (CMOS) neurons and a selector-less RRAM 1 kbit array, by taking advantage of the nonlinear characteristics of the RRAM element (gure 1).

PCMO lm (by using RF magnetron sputter) was deposited by means of conventional lithography and reactive ion etching. During PCMO deposition, the substrate temperature was maintained at 600 C. Next, a SiNx 80 nm-thick layer was deposited (by plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition), followed by the formation of via holes by means of conventional lithography and reactive ion etching. The PCMO lm was then annealed for 30 min at 500 C in an oxygen atmosphere in order to treat any defects on its surface. A top electrode (TE) consisting of 7 nm of Al and 90 nm of W was subsequently deposited (by using RF magnetron sputter) and patterned by means of conventional lithography. The electrical characteristics of all of these devices were measured using an Agilent 4155A semiconductor parameter analyzer and an Agilent 81104A pulse generator. Microscopic images of the cross-point 1 kbit synaptic RRAM array are shown in gures 3(a) and (b). The cross-section of the memory device was investigated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM), as shown in gure 3(c).

3. Results and discussion

Figure 4 shows the currentvoltage (I V ) hysteresis characteristics during incremental reset and set bias sweeps. This graph shows the analog memory characteristics of the selector-less, cross-point 1 kbit RRAM array. In light of the previously studied operational mechanisms for this type of device, the results show multi-level conductance caused by the oxidation and reduction of AlOx at the Al/PCMO interface [26]. When Al is deposited, the reaction between Al and PCMO makes a very thin AlOx layer. A dc bias is applied to the W top electrode while the bottom electrode is grounded. As a negative bias is applied at the top electrode, oxygen ions (O2 ) move from the AlOx to the PCMO bulk layer, which forms the LRS. In contrast, a positive bias attracts O2 and forms a thick insulating oxide layer, which results in an HRS by preventing conducting electrons. For an electronic synapse

2. Experimental setup
We fabricated a 1 kbit RRAM array of synapses; the process scheme for this array is detailed in gure 2. The system consists of a cross-point RRAM array of active W/Al/Pr0.7 Ca0.3 MnO3 (PCMO)/Pt (from top to bottom) devices having diameters ranging from 150 nm to 1 m using a via-hole structure. To fabricate this structure, a bottom electrode (BE) consisting of a 50 nm-thick Pt layer (by using electron beam evaporation) and a 30 nm-thick polycrystalline

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Figure 2. The process scheme for the cross-point 1 kbit synaptic RRAM array.

Figure 3. (a), (b) Microscopic images. (c) FIB-TEM image of the cross-point 1 kbit synaptic RRAM array. An RRAM is formed at each cross-point.

to emulate the behavior of a biological synapse, it would be necessary that the conductance of the electronic synapse could be continuously modied by input impulses. An important further step is design of a model of the RRAM synapse, as shown in gure 5. Figure 5(a) shows the multi-level I V characteristic curves of the proposed device under the double sweep mode. The switching behavior of PCMO devices is mainly controlled by the migration of oxygen ions under an electric eld applied between the active top electrode and the PCMO lm. The bias voltage was swept from 0 V Vmax 0 V +Vmax 0 V. Both

the current level and ROFF /RON ratio are increased gradually when the electric eld (Vmax ) increases. On the basis of the experimental measurements, we developed a Verilog-A model of an RRAM synapse in a Cadence simulatorthe main platform tool for integrated circuit development. Figure 5(b) shows the modeling result for the proposed device under the double sweep mode. The modeling results showed that the resistance of RRAM-based synapses is closely related to the metal oxide layer thickness. As can be seen from equations (1)(2), the level of current in the PooleFrenkel (PF) emission and space charge-limited current (SCLC) models is inuenced by the oxide thickness

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Figure 4. Repeated incremental negative and positive currentvoltage (I V ) sweeps. This graph shows the analog memory characteristics of the cross-point 1 kbit synaptic RRAM array.

(di ) and the barrier height ( B ). Here, it is assumed that the barrier height varies linearly with the thickness of the oxide. q qV / di i B v JPF exp (1) di kT JSCLC AV B RTotal = RPF + RSCLC . (2) (3)

As testing of the capability of the Verilog-A model showed that it could be used to accurately simulate the experimental data, we utilized it as the interface for simulating RRAM-based synaptic networks with CMOS-based neurons and for testing neuromorphic circuits. To evaluate the feasibility of the proposed neuromorphic device, we designed a CMOS neuron and RRAM array synapse circuit conguration based on a leaky integrateand-re neuron model [25]. This electrical circuit consisted of a capacitor C in parallel with a resistor R and 30 RRAM synapses driven by a current I (t). The integration and discharging times were determined from the parameters

of R and C; different clock cycles were used (not shown in the gure). Larger RRAM conductance, which represents a larger number of open channels in real synapses, corresponds to larger synaptic weights. This architecture operates in two modes: the learning and testing modes. Cycle CLK1 is activated in the testing mode, whereas CLK2 is activated during the learning mode; all of the clocks in this circuit share a common clock. Figure 6(b) shows the circuit conguration in the learning mode, in which the cycle number of CLK2 is used to determine the degree of learning, whereas gure 6(c) shows the circuit conguration in the testing mode. Sequential input signals from 0 to 9 were applied continuously in order to control the state of the RRAM (i.e., LRS/HRS), and electrical pulses were applied to all of the inputs in order to update the resistance of the RRAM synapse (or the weight of the synapses). The total current ow was determined from the resistance of the RRAM and the amplitude of the input pulse. Figure 7(a) shows a photographic image of a CMOS neuron circuit with a 1 kbit RRAM array as the synapse. The CMOS neuron circuit consists of pulse generation, neuron networks and connection parts. Figure 7(b) shows the experimental results for the hybrid CMOS neuron/RRAM synapse circuit in the testing mode. There are ve states (from Vout1 to Vout5 ). The data were obtained by measuring the response of a 30 RRAM synapse branch to the input spikes. This bi-stable mode of using the RRAM would encode only an ON or OFF synaptic state. Of course, we could modulate the resistance of the RRAM to obtain multi-level distinct analog states, as already shown in gure 4. In the testing mode, once a selected neuron res, if its voltage exceeds the neurons ring threshold, it lets every other neuron know it has done so, which resets all of their internal states to minimum. It is worth noting here that the slope of each curve shows linear behavior; this indicates that there is a constant value of resistance in an RRAM synapse, which in turn shows the favorable retention and learning properties of such synapses.

4. Conclusion
Previous research has shown that high-density, hybrid RRAM/CMOS systems can function well by taking advantage

Figure 5. Comparison conducted with a variable voltage under the double voltage sweep mode between (a) the experimental and (b) the modeled nonlinear characteristics of the device.

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Figure 6. (a) Simple circuit diagram of a hybrid CMOS neuron/RRAM synapse circuit to emulate the biological neuron system. (b) Circuit conguration in the learning mode, in which the cycle number of the pulse is used to determine the degree of learning. (c) Circuit conguration in the testing mode.

Figure 7. (a) Photographic image of the hybrid CMOS neuron/RRAM synapse circuit. (b) Experimental results for the hybrid CMOS neuron/RRAM synapse circuit in the testing mode. There are ve states (from Vout1 to Vout5 ). Each slope is linear. This means that the resistance of the RRAM synapse has good retention and learning properties.

of the nonlinear I V characteristics of the synaptic RRAM array. In this study, we experimentally demonstrated for the rst time the learning capabilities and predictable performance in a neuromorphic circuit consisting of a

nanoscale 1 kbit RRAM cross-point array synapse network and CMOS neuron circuits. The results of our work strongly suggest that RRAM-based synaptic electronics are well suited for use in future data storage and neuromorphic applications.

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This research was supported by the Pioneer Research Center Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (2012-0009460).

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