Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Materials Engineering

Committee Chair

Alejandro Strachan

Committee Member 1

Gerhard Klimeck

Committee Member 2

Joerg Appenzeller

Committee Member 3

Shriram Ramanathan


Due to the mainstream CMOS technology facing a rapid approach to the fundamental downscaling limit, beyond CMOS technologies are under active investigation and development with the intention of revolutionizing and sustaining a wide range of applications including sensors, cryptography, neuromorphic and quantum computing, memory, and logic, among others. Resistive switching electronics, for example, are devices that can change their electrical resistance with an applied external field. Despite their simple metal-insulator-metal structure, resistive switching devices exhibit an intricate set of IV characteristics based on the chemical composition of the solid electrolyte that ranges from non-volatile bipolar and non-polar switching to volatile threshold switching (abrupt but reversible change in resistance). This rich variety of electrical responses offer new alternatives to traditional CMOS applications in the areas of RF-signal switching, relaxation oscillators, over-voltage protection, and notably, memory cells and two-terminal non-linear selector devices.

With the aim of unraveling the physics behind two of such conduction mechanisms, filamentary and threshold, in electrochemical cells consisting solid mixed ionic-electronic conductor electrolytes, this work focused on using first-principles calculations to characterize the structural, thermodynamic, and electronic properties of copper-doped amorphous silicon dioxide and copper-doped germanium-based glassy chalcogenides.

The Cu/a-SiO2 system is a promising candidate for resistive switching memory applications. The conduction mechanism in the low-resistance state is known to be filamentary, that is, a physical metallic filament bridges between the metallic electrodes through the amorphous silica. However, many fundamental materials processes that would aid the design and optimization of this devices, such the shape and size of stable metallic filaments, remain unknown. In the first part of this work, the morphology and diffusion of small copper clusters embedded in amorphous silicon dioxide were characterized by density functional theory calculations. The average formation energy of a single copper ion in the amorphous matrix is found to be 2.4 eV, about 50% lower than in the case of silicon dioxide in its cristobalite or quartz phases. The theoretical predictions show that copper clusters with an equiaxed morphology are always energetically favorable relative to the dissolved copper ions in a-SiO2; hence, stable clusters do not exhibit a critical size. The stochasticity in the atomistic structure of the amorphous silicon dioxide leads to a broad distribution activation energies for diffusion of copper in the matrix, ranging from 0.4 to 1.1 eV.

Since ab initio molecular dynamics are prohibitively expensive to simulate the switching process in Cu/a-SiO2 electrochemical metallization cells, a multi-scale simulation approach based on electrochemical dynamics with implicit degrees of freedom and density functional theory was developed to study the electronic evolution during metallic filament formation cells. These simulations suggest that the electronic transport in the low-resistance configuration is attributed to copper derived states belonging to the filament bridging between electrodes. Interestingly, the participation of states derived from intrinsic defects in the amorphous SiO2 around the Fermi energy are negligible and do not contribute to conduction.

Unlike the Cu/a-SiO2 system which only exhibits filamentary switching, copper-doped germanium-based glassy chalcogenides show filamentary or threshold type of conduction depending on the chemical composition of the glass and copper concentration. Ab initio molecular dynamics based on density functional theory is used to understand the atomistic origin of the electronic transport in these materials. The theoretical predictions show that glasses containing tellurium tend to favor the formation of copper clusters; hence, these materials exhibit filamentary conduction. Threshold conduction is predicted to be the transport mechanism for glassy sulfides and selenides due to the ability of copper to remain dissolved in the amorphous matrix even at high metal concentration. Furthermore, the charge carrier transport in sulfur and selenium glasses was found to be assisted by defective states derived from chalcogen atoms whose bonds exhibit a polar character.

Finally, taking advantage of the van der Waals gap as intercalation sites and crystal order in molybdenum disulfide, a novel mixed ionic-electronic conductor material based on copper and silver intercalation of MoS2 is proposed. The theoretical predictions show that on average, the intercalation energy of copper into MoS2 is 1 eV, while intercalation of silver shows a strong dependence on concentration ranging from 2.2 to 0.75 eV for low and high concentrations, respectively. The activation energy for diffusion of copper and silver intercalated within the van der Waals gap of MoS2 is predicted to be 0.32 and 0.38 eV, respectively, comparable to other superionic conductors. Upon Cu and Ag intercalation, MoS2 undergoes a semiconductor-to-metal transition, where the in-plane and out-of-plane conductances are comparable and exhibit a linear dependence with metal concentration.