Current-induced magnetization switching using an electrically insulating spin-torque generator

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Science Advances  23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 2, eaar2250
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar2250


Current-induced magnetization switching through spin-orbit torques is the fundamental building block of spin-orbitronics, which promises high-performance, low-power memory and logic devices. The spin-orbit torques generally arise from spin-orbit coupling of heavy metals. However, even in a heterostructure where a metallic magnet is sandwiched by two different insulators, a nonzero spin-orbit torque is expected because of the broken inversion symmetry; an electrical insulator can be a source of the spin-orbit torques. We demonstrate current-induced magnetization switching using an insulator. We show that oxygen incorporation into the most widely used spintronic material, Pt, turns the heavy metal into an electrically insulating generator of the spin-orbit torques, which enables the electrical switching of perpendicular magnetization in a ferrimagnet sandwiched by insulating oxides. We also show that the spin-orbit torques generated from the Pt oxide can be controlled electrically through voltage-driven oxygen migration. These findings open a route toward energy-efficient, voltage-programmable spin-orbit devices based on insulating metal oxides.

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