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Design Rules for Phase-Change Materials in Data Storage Applications



Phase-change materials can rapidly and reversibly be switched between an amorphous and a crystalline phase. Since both phases are characterized by very different optical and electrical properties, these materials can be employed for rewritable optical and electrical data storage. Hence, there are considerable efforts to identify suitable materials, and to optimize them with respect to specific applications. Design rules that can explain why the materials identified so far enable phase-change based devices would hence be very beneficial. This article describes materials that have been successfully employed and dicusses common features regarding both typical structures and bonding mechanisms. It is shown that typical structural motifs and electronic properties can be found in the crystalline state that are indicative for resonant bonding, from which the employed contrast originates. The occurence of resonance is linked to the composition, thus providing a design rule for phase-change materials. This understanding helps to unravel characteristic properties such as electrical and thermal conductivity which are discussed in the subsequent section. Then, turning to the transition kinetics between the phases, the current understanding and modeling of the processes of amorphization and crystallization are discussed. Finally, present approaches for improved high-capacity optical discs and fast non-volatile electrical memories, that hold the potential to succeed present-day’s Flash memory, are presented.