- Press Release Distribution

Scientists uncovered mystery of important material for semiconductors at the surface

Scientists uncovered mystery of important material for semiconductors at the surface
( A team of scientists with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has investigated the behavior of hafnium oxide, or hafnia, because of its potential for use in novel semiconductor applications.

Materials such as hafnia exhibit ferroelectricity, which means that they are capable of extended data storage even when power is disconnected and that they might be used in the development of new, so-called nonvolatile memory technologies. Innovative nonvolatile memory applications will pave the way for the creation of bigger and faster computer systems by alleviating the heat generated from the continual transfer of data to short-term memory.

The scientists explored whether the atmosphere plays a role in hafnia’s ability to change its internal electric charge arrangement when an external electric field is applied. The goal was to explain the range of unusual phenomena that have been obtained in hafnia research. The team’s findings were recently published in Nature Materials.

“We have conclusively proven that the ferroelectric behavior in these systems is coupled to the surface and is tunable by changing the surrounding atmosphere. Previously, the workings of these systems were speculation, a hypothesis based on a large number of observations both by our group and by multiple groups worldwide,” said ORNL’s Kyle Kelley, a researcher with the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences. CNMS is a DOE Office of Science user facility.

Kelley performed the experiments and envisioned the project in collaboration with Sergei Kalinin of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Materials commonly used for memory applications have a surface, or dead, layer that interferes with the material’s ability to store information. As materials are scaled down to only several nanometers thick, the effect of the dead layer becomes extreme enough to completely stop the functional properties. By changing the atmosphere, the scientists were able to tune the surface layer’s behavior, which, in hafnia, transitioned the material from the antiferroelectric to the ferroelectric state. 

“Ultimately, these findings provide a pathway for predictive modeling and device engineering of hafnia, which is urgently needed, given the importance of this material in the semiconductor industry,” Kelley said.

Predictive modeling enables scientists to use previous research to estimate the properties and behavior of an unknown system. The study that Kelley and Kalinin led focused on hafnia alloyed, or blended, with zirconia, a ceramic material. But future research could apply the findings to anticipate how hafnia may behave when alloyed with other elements.

The research relied on atomic force microscopy both inside a glovebox and in ambient conditions, as well as ultrahigh-vacuum atomic force microscopy, methods available at the CNMS.

“Leveraging the unique CNMS capabilities enabled us to do this type of work,” Kelley said. “We basically changed the environment all the way from ambient atmosphere to ultrahigh vacuum. In other words, we removed all gases in the atmosphere to negligible levels and measured these responses, which is extremely hard to do.”

Team members from the Materials Characterization Facility at Carnegie Mellon University played a key role in the research by providing electron microscopy characterization, and collaborators from the University of Virginia led the materials development and optimization.

ORNL’s Yongtao Liu, a researcher with CNMS, performed ambient piezoresponse force microscopy measurements.

The model theory that underpinned this research project was the result of a long research partnership between Kalinin and Anna Morozovska at the Institute of Physics, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

“I have worked with my colleagues in Kiev on physics and chemistry of ferroelectrics for almost 20 years now,” Kalinin said. “They did a lot for this paper while almost on the front line of the war in that country. These people keep doing science in conditions that most of us cannot imagine.”

The team hopes that what they have discovered will stimulate new research specific to exploring the role of controlled surface and interface electrochemistries — the relationship between electricity and chemical reactions — in a computing device’s performance.

“Future studies can extend this knowledge to other systems to help us understand how the interface affects the device properties, which, hopefully, will be in a good way,” Kelley said. “Typically, the interface kills your ferroelectric properties when scaled to these thicknesses. In this case, it showed us a transition from one material state to another.”  

Kalinin added: “Traditionally, we explored surfaces at the atomic level to understand phenomena such as chemical reactivity and catalysis, or the modification of the rate of a chemical reaction. Simultaneously, in traditional semiconductor technology, our goal was only to keep surfaces clean from contaminants. Our studies show that, in fact, these two areas — the surface and the electrochemistry — are connected. We can use surfaces of these materials to tune their bulk functional properties.”

The title of the paper is “Ferroelectricity in hafnia controlled via surface electrochemical state.”

This research was supported as part of the Center for 3D Ferroelectric Microelectronics, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by DOE’s Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences program, and was partially performed as a user proposal at the CNMS.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit


[Attachments] See images for this press release:
Scientists uncovered mystery of important material for semiconductors at the surface


RIT researcher receives award to advance study of cortical blindness

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gabriel Diaz, associate professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, has earned the Research to Prevent Blindness/Lions Clubs International Foundation Low Vision Research Award (LVRA), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Rochester. The award is given annually to provide funding for innovative research, which demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking, focuses on the visual system that is damaged, and seeks greater understanding of how the visual system and brain respond to severe and chronic visual ...

$8.7M to vector-borne disease center funds training, evaluation

ITHACA, N.Y. -- To help respond to emerging and established vector-borne threats, the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases (NEVBD), led by Cornell, has received a five-year, $8.7 million award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to train and educate current and future vector-borne disease professionals and to evaluate the effectiveness of community and regional prevention strategies. The award, effective as of July, follows $10 million in ...

New device rapidly controls postpartum hemorrhage

NEW YORK, NY, Sept. 14, 2023--A study led by Columbia obstetricians has shown that a new intrauterine device can rapidly control postpartum hemorrhage, a major cause of severe maternal morbidity and death, in real-world situations.  “Our findings show that the device is an important new tool in managing postpartum bleeding,” says Dena Goffman, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior author of the study.   “We had ...

Grant funds study of video game for preventing unintended teen pregnancies

Grant funds study of video game for preventing unintended teen pregnancies
Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded a five-year, $5 million grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services through the Office of Population Affairs under the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program to conduct a randomized trial testing whether a bilingual video game called “No Baby No (No Bebé No)” can increase the use of contraception among sexually active Black and Hispanic adolescents. “Nine out of ten teens play video games. No Baby No empowers Black and Hispanic adolescents to learn about contraception, and the potential consequences of not using it, in a risk-free virtual ...

New evidence indicates patients recall death experiences after cardiac arrest

New evidence indicates patients recall death experiences after cardiac arrest
Philadelphia, September 14, 2023 – Up to an hour after their hearts had stopped, some patients revived by cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) had clear memories afterward of experiencing death and had brain patterns while unconscious linked to thought and memory, report investigators in the journal Resuscitation, published by Elsevier. In a study led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, in cooperation with 25 mostly US and British hospitals, some survivors of cardiac arrest described lucid death experiences that occurred while they were seemingly unconscious. Despite immediate treatment, fewer than 10% of the 567 patients studied, ...

Clinical whole genome sequencing test developed at JAX

Clinical whole genome sequencing test developed at JAX
Until quite recently, it was extremely difficult to detect the variants underlying many genetic disorders. In the absence of a defined cause, clinicians have little to guide treatment for those left without a genetic diagnosis, forcing patients and families to embark on a diagnostic odyssey with no guarantee of finding answers. A decade ago, sequencing centers began offering clinical whole exome sequencing, but these only cover the portion of the genome that codes for proteins – approximately 1.5 percent of the entire genome. While relatively successful, the diagnostic yield for most clinical exome sequencing programs is roughly 25 percent, leaving 75 percent of cases without ...

UCI researchers announce publication of an open-label clinical trial suggesting that N-acetylglucosamine restores neurological function in Multiple Sclerosis patients

UCI researchers announce publication of an open-label clinical trial suggesting that N-acetylglucosamine restores neurological function in Multiple Sclerosis patients
Irvine, CA – Sept. 14, 2023 – UCI researchers have found that a simple sugar, N-acetylglucosamine, reduces multiple inflammation and neurodegeneration markers in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS). In addition, they also found this dietary supplement improved neurological function in 30% of patients. According to the World Health Organization, MS affects more than 1.8 million people, and while there are treatments to prevent relapses and improve quality of life, there is no cure. The study, N-acetylglucosamine ...

Vocal learning linked to problem solving skills and brain size

Vocal learning linked to problem solving skills and brain size
The European starling boasts a remarkable repertoire. Versatile songbirds that learn warbles, whistles, calls, and songs throughout their lives, starlings rank among the most advanced avian vocal learners. Now a new study published in Science finds that starlings, along with other complex vocal learners, are also superior problem solvers. “There is a long-standing hypothesis that only the most intelligent animals are capable of complex vocal learning,” says Jean-Nicolas Audet, a research ...

Study finds spiritual coping behaviors may be key to enhanced trauma recovery of Black men who survive firearm injury

Study finds spiritual coping behaviors may be key to enhanced trauma recovery of Black men who survive firearm injury
PHILADELPHIA (September 14, 2023) – High rates of firearm injury among urban Black men in the U.S. can lead to long physical and psychological recovery times, worsened by limited access to mental health services. In the face of firearm injury, urban Black men may feel they have lost control over their lives, leading to fear, paranoia, lack of forgiveness, and different dimensions of mental health challenges, which can be difficult to overcome. In a pilot study from the  University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing ...

In the “I” of the beholder: People believe self-relevant artwork is more beautiful

People have fairly consistent preferences when it comes to judging the beauty of things in the real world—it’s well known, for example, that humans prefer symmetrical faces. But our feelings about art may be more personal, causing us to prefer art that speaks to our sense of self, research in Psychological Science suggests.  “When there is personal meaning in an image, that can dominate your aesthetic judgments way more than any image feature,” said Edward A. Vessel (The City College of New York) in an interview. Though self-relevant ...


12.5, the 1st Impact Factor of COMMTR released!

Circadian clock impact on cluster headaches funded by $2.4M NIH grant for UTHealth Houston research

Study identifies first drug therapy for sleep apnea

How old is your bone marrow?

Boosting biodiversity without hurting local economies

ChatGPT is biased against resumes with credentials that imply a disability — but it can improve

Simple test for flu could improve diagnosis and surveillance

UT Health San Antonio researcher awarded five-year, $2.53 million NIH grant to study alcohol-assisted liver disease

Giving pre-med students hands-on clinical training

CAMH research suggests potential targets for prevention and early identification of psychotic disorders

Mapping the heart to prevent damage caused by a heart attack

Study challenges popular idea that Easter islanders committed ‘ecocide’

Chilling discovery: Study reveals evolution of human cold and menthol sensing protein, offering hope for future non-addictive pain therapies.

Elena Beccalli, new rector of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, takes office on 1st July

Pacific Northwest Research Institute uncovers hidden DNA mechanisms of rare genetic diseases

Empowering older adults: Wearable tech made easier with personalized support

Pennington Biomedical researchers partner on award-winning Long Covid study

Cooling ‘blood oranges’ could make them even healthier – a bonus for consumers

Body image and overall health found important to the sexual health of older gay men, according to new studies

Lab-grown muscles reveal mysteries of rare muscle diseases

Primary hepatic angiosarcoma: Treatment options for a rare tumor

Research finds causal evidence tying cerebral small-vessel disease to Alzheimer’s, dementia

Navigating the Pyrocene: Recent Cell Press papers on managing fire risk

Restoring the Great Salt Lake would have environmental justice as well as ecological benefits

Cannabis, tobacco use, and COVID-19 outcomes

A 5:2 intermittent fasting meal replacement diet and glycemic control for adults with diabetes

Scientists document self-propelling oxygen decline in the oceans

Activating molecular target reverses multiple hallmarks of aging

Cannabis use tied to increased risk of severe COVID-19

How to make ageing a ‘fairer game’ for all wormkind

[] Scientists uncovered mystery of important material for semiconductors at the surface