A current map for improving circuit design

1 min read

Researchers at KAUST have developed a method for mapping the flow of a current in devices with complex geometries that could be used to optimise circuit design.

Senfu Zhang and Xixiang Zhang, working with colleagues from KAUST, China and the United States, have devised a method for visualizing the magnitude and direction of current flow through a magnetic thin film.

Several experimental methods had been developed to map current density in electronic materials, but these only do so indirectly, measuring stray fields rather than the currents themselves. Also, they can be very expensive, or work only at very low temperatures. Computer simulations offer a cheaper alternative; however, they tend to oversimplify actual devices, ignoring nonuniformities or cracks in the material.

Instead, Zhang's team have directly mapped the nonuniform electrical current distribution in layered platinum, cobalt and tantalum using the existence of so-called skyrmions. These "magnetic bubbles" can be imaged by a technique known as magneto-optical Kerr microscopy, which measures changes in the intensity and polarization of light reflected from a surface as a result of magnetic disturbances.

The skyrmions appear as round bubbles in the microscope images.

"We found that when we passed a current through the material, only the front end of the bubbles moved forward, forming narrow, parallel strip domains," explained Senfu Zhang. The researchers showed that it was simple to extract the current flow from the growth direction of these patterns.

"This approach is not suitable for use in an actual device because it requires the deposition of Pt/Co/Ta on the device, but it is useful in the design phase," said Zhang. "Knowing the direction and magnitude of the electric current in each part of the device helps improve the design and performance."