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posted on 14.12.2020, 22:50 by Vaibhav R Ostwal

Novel computational paradigms based on non-von Neumann architectures are being extensively explored for modern data-intensive applications and big-data problems. One direction in this context is to harness the intrinsic physics of spintronics devices for the implementation of nanoscale and low-power building blocks of such emerging computational systems. For example, a Probabilistic Spin Logic (PSL) that consists of networks of p-bits has been proposed for neuromorphic computing, Bayesian networks, and for solving optimization problems. In my work, I will discuss two types of device-components required for PSL: (i) p-bits mimicking binary stochastic neurons (BSN) and (ii) compound synapses for implementing weighted interconnects between p-bits. Furthermore, I will also show how the integration of recently discovered van der Waals ferromagnets in spintronics devices can reduce the current densities required by orders of magnitude, paving the way for future low-power spintronics devices.

First, a spin-device with input-output isolation and stable magnets capable of generating tunable random numbers, similar to a BSN, was demonstrated. In this device, spin-orbit torque pulses are used to initialize a nano-magnet with perpendicular magnetic anisotropy (PMA) along its hard axis. After removal of each pulse, the nano-magnet can relax back to either of its two stable states, generating a stream of binary random numbers. By applying a small Oersted field using the input terminal of the device, the probability of obtaining 0 or 1 in binary random numbers (P) can be tuned electrically. Furthermore, our work shows that in the case when two stochastic devices are connected in series, “P” of the second device is a function of “P” of the first p-bit and the weight of the interconnection between them. Such control over correlated probabilities of stochastic devices using interconnecting weights is the working principle of PSL.

Next my work focused on compact and energy efficient implementations of p-bits and interconnecting weights using modified spin-devices. It was shown that unstable in-plane magnetic tunneling junctions (MTJs), i.e. MTJs with a low energy barrier, naturally fluctuate between two states (parallel and anti-parallel) without any external excitation, in this way generating binary random numbers. Furthermore, spin-orbit torque of tantalum is used to control the time spent by the in-plane MTJ in either of its two states i.e. “P” of the device. In this device, the READ and WRITE paths are separated since the MTJ state is read by passing a current through the MTJ (READ path) while “P” is controlled by passing a current through the tantalum bar (WRITE path). Hence, a BSN/p-bit is implemented without energy-consuming hard axis initialization of the magnet and Oersted fields. Next, probabilistic switching of stable magnets was utilized to implement a novel compound synapse, which can be used for weighted interconnects between p-bits. In this experiment, an ensemble of nano-magnets was subjected to spin-orbit torque pulses such that each nano-magnet has a finite probability of switching. Hence, when a series of pulses are applied, the total magnetization of the ensemble gradually increases with the number of pulses

applied similar to the potentiation and depression curves of synapses. Furthermore, it was shown that a modified pulse scheme can improve the linearity of the synaptic behavior, which is desired for neuromorphic computing. By implementing both neuronal and synaptic devices using simple nano-magnets, we have shown that PSL can be realized using a modified Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM) technology. Note that MRAM technology exists in many current foundries.

To further reduce the current densities required for spin-torque devices, we have fabricated heterostructures consisting of a 2-dimensional semiconducting ferromagnet (Cr2Ge2Te6) and a metal with spin-orbit coupling metal (tantalum). Because of properties such as clean interfaces, perfect crystalline nanomagnet structure and sustained magnetic moments down to the mono-layer limit and low current shunting, 2D ferromagnets require orders of magnitude lower current densities for spin-orbit torque switching than conventional metallic ferromagnets such as CoFeB.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Prof. Joerg Appenzeller

Additional Committee Member 2

Prof. Zhihong Chen

Additional Committee Member 3

Prof. Supriyo Datta

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Dmitri Nikonov