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Random Telegraphic Noise in Double Barrier Systems

Published in Applied Physics Letters, 63, 2652 (1993)

R. E. Salvino and F. A. Buot Electronics Science and Technology Division, Code 6864 Naval Research Laboratory Washington DC 20375-5000
Abstract A random telegraphic noise (RTN) in a resonant tunneling device (RTD) has been found through a self-consistent particle Monte Carlo (MC) simulation with model quantum dynamics. The onset of RTN coincides with the onset of tunneling conduction, and with the onset of the low-current valley region of the current-voltage (I-V) characteristic. The simulation demonstrates the presence of the statistical capture and release of tunneling charged particles by the quantum well, which is similar to the capture and release of electrons by electron traps (defects, etc.). It is proposed that this may represent a novel mechanism for explaining the experimentally observed RTN behavior of large-area double-barrier structures since it is not restricted to small-area devices.

Much of the early interest in random telegraphic noise (RTN) in electronics centered on the origins of low-frequency 1/f noise [1–5]. The work focused on small-area devices and displayed the effects of single carrier traps on transport through the device. The statistical capture and release of carriers by individual traps creates a random switching of current between two distinct values. This particular effect has been observed in tunnel junctions in metal-oxide-semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs) [1–3] and in superconducting junctions [4]. The interactions between traps in MOSFETs has also been reported [5]. More recently, RTN has been observed in large-area amorphous silicon/amorphous silicon nitride double-barrier structures [6], and as a light-activated response in single-barrier GaAs/AlGaAs systems [7, 8]. In a large-area double-barrier structure, Arce et al [6] interpreted their RTN result as due to a current path that is confined to a 1

filament of cross-sectional area < 1µm2 , with random modulation of the current by electron traps in the barriers via the usual thermal activation process. In this letter, we report a novel aspect of RTN in a symmetric GaAs /AlGaAs double-barrier system which has been observed at a bias of 0.06 V in all our simulations for the structure specified below, and is clearly manifested by the telegraphic noise behavior of the lowest lying resonant energy level. In the present case, the quantum well takes the place of a defect, acting as a Monte Carlo (MC) superparticle electron trap (in the limit of small area, it becomes a real single-electron trap), and the quantum statistical capture and release of electrons is through quantum tunneling instead of the thermally activated mechanism often invoked to explain 1/f noise. In all our simulations, this behavior is only observed well before the resonance peak of the current-voltage (I − V ) curve, at the onset of tunneling current conduction, and also at the onset of current minimum, just beyond the negative differential resistance (NDR) region of the I − V curve. Note that the RTN observed by Arce et al [6] also occurs at voltage bias well before the resonance peak, very close to the onset of current. Thus, the dynamical phenomenon reported here may offer an alternative and novel mechanism for explaining the observed RTN in large-area doublebarrier structures. Moreover, the appearance of RTN in the energy level also appears to correlate with the predominance of effects due to single-electron tunneling dynamics, where in the limit of small cross-sectional area, the MC superparticle reduces to an individual carrier, and true single-electron tunneling statistical events result. The structure that was investigated was a symmetric double-barrier system (AlGaAs barriers, GaAs well) sandwiched between bulk GaAs layers. The total device length is 620 ˚ A, each barrier is 30 ˚ A wide, the well is 50 ˚ A ˚ wide, and each spacer layer is 30 A wide. The barrier heights are 0.3 eV and the doping concentration is 1018 cm−3 , with the spacer layers, barriers, and quantum well remaining undoped. The temperature of the system was fixed at 77 K. Briefly, the simulation method utilizes a model quantum particle dynamics for particles that tunnel through the quantum structure based upon the phase time delay; for particles in the bulk semiconductor layers, traditional MC trajectories are followed. A more complete description of the system and the details of the simulation method may be found in Ref. [9]. This method has been shown to successfully reproduce the intrinsic bistability and hysteresis in the I − V curve of a symmetric double barrier system [9]. Moreover, recent numerical refinements of the code have also reproduced well-defined current oscillations in the NDR, in agreement with 2

Figure 1: Comparison of a snapshot of the potential profile at 0.06 V, taken at 4 ps, shown with the time-averaged potential profile. The instantaneous potential fluctuates with time-varying amplitude.

Wigner function calculations [10]; this will be reported elsewhere. In this letter, we focus on the low bias, low-current region of the I − V characteristic. The simulation begins with the equilibrium condition at zero bias, sweeping forward in bias in increments of 0.02 V. At each bias, the system is allowed to evolve for 4 ps, well beyond the time required to reach steady-state conditions, before the bias is incremented again. We concentrate on three adjacent bias points on the I − V : 0.04, 0.06, and 0.08 V, with special emphasis on the 0.06-V case. In Fig. 1, we show a snapshot of the potential profile at 4 ps along with the time-averaged profile. The figure reveals that the profile is relatively flat in the collector region but maintains a well-defined barrier (a “well-hump-wedge”) structure in the emitter region as well as a near-perfect linear drop across the quantum structure. In addition, the figure shows that the potential profile has a dynamical aspect that can be ascertained by comparing the instantaneous profile snapshot with the timeaveraged potential profile for the run. These potential oscillations appear in the resonant energy level when the level is measured from the zero of energy, which is taken to be the conduction band edge at the emitter contact. Fig. 2 shows the resonant energy level at a bias of 0.06 V (center panel) as measured from the conduction band edge of the emitter contact. This appears to be a corrupted form of RTN, high-frequency oscillations superim3

Figure 2: Lowest lying resonant energy level, measured from the conduction band edge at the emitter contact, for three bias cases: 0.04, 0.06, and 0.08 V. The Fermi energy (dashed line) at the emitter contact is shown for reference. Note that the behavior at 0.06 V is qualitatively different from the 0.04- and 0.08-V cases, reflecting the special nature of the 0.06-V bias case.

posed upon random discrete jumps. Also in Fig. 2 we display the resonant energy level at biases of 0.04 V (top panel) and 0.08 V (bottom panel) for comparison purposes. We see that the 0.06-V case, which is the onset of tunneling current, shows a qualitatively different behavior from the adjacent bias cases. Indeed, if we measure the resonant energy level with respect to the potential base at the emitter barrier edge (note that the quasi-Fermi level of the emitter is also measured from this reference potential), this energy level at 0.06 V exhibits the characteristics of RTN (center panel in Fig. 3). The small step jumps in Fig. 3 are purely numerical, and are due to the discretization of the energy level in steps of 1 meV. However, the jumps of nearly 20 meV are clear signatures of RTN. It should be emphasized that these large discrete jumps appeared only at a bias of around 0.06 V: the energy level as measured from the potential at the barrier edge of the emitter was perfectly flat for the voltage bias of 0.04 V (top panel in Fig. 3), and after the initial transient period of about 0.5 ps, the corresponding result for the voltage bias of 0.08 V showed only damped small amplitude oscillations (bottom panel in Fig. 3). The simulations clearly demonstrate that the voltage bias of 0.06 V, where the tunneling current starts to turn on, is


Figure 3: Lowest lying resonant energy level, measured from the potential at the barrier edge of the emitter region, for the cases shown in Fig. 2. The qualitatively different behavior of the characteristic RTN at 0.06 V (the bias at which tunneling conduction turns on) is strikingly evident.

a special bias point for this particular physical structure. The plot of the number of superparticles in the quantum well clearly displays the discrete nature of single-electron tunneling dynamics (Fig. 4). At zero bias and at 0.02-V bias, no tunneling events occurred. At 0.04 V, during the transient period in which the emitter spacer layer carrier density built-up, a single leakage tunneling event occurred: a superparticle occupied the quantum structure from 0.2 to 0.4 ps, the quantum structure remaining devoid of superparticles at all remaining times (top panel in Fig. 4). This early single tunneling event left no lasting impression on the resonant energy level (see top panel in Fig. 3). At a bias of 0.06 V, single-electron tunneling events become repetitive but not “continuous:” the well is occupied and vacant in clear switchlike events (center panel in Fig. 4). At the next bias step of 0.08 V, while the discrete nature of the tunneling events is still in evidence, the well is occupied with more than one superparticle most of the time, in a nearly continuous manner (bottom panel in Fig. 4). As a result, the switchlike behavior due to the single-electron tunneling dynamics is not as pronounced, resulting in small amplitude oscillations in the resonant energy level rather than large discrete jumps. These small oscillations are characteristic of the behavior of the resonant energy level until the NDR is 5

Figure 4: Number of superparticles in the quantum well as a function of time for the three bias cases 0.04, 0.06, and 0.08 V. Except for one transient single-electron leakage event, the well is always empty at 0.04V. At 0.06 V, the repetitive discrete events are evident, leading to the RTN behavior shown in Fig. 3. At 0.08 V, the quantum well is occuppied in a near-continuous manner.

reached, where the oscillations grow in amplitude and in period, due to the intrinsic instability of the NDR region [9]. The single-superparticle tunneling displayed in Fig. 4 suggests that the well of the double-barrier system may be described as a trap, in which superparticles are trapped and released as discrete events (note that in MC techniques, the single particle dynamics is accurately described but the statistics of the actual number of particles is reflected in the superparticle concept). This is true only when a single-electron tunneling dynamical event has a predominant effect: as more electrons populate the well, the traplike effects of the well become blurred since the addition of one more electron does not yield a dramatic effect as it does when the well is depopulated. It may also be true that the ”emitter potential wedge region” acts as a trap, enhancing the RTN behavior. The discrete jumps in the number of particles in the left barrier, in the well, and in the right barrier correlate strongly with jumps in the resonant energy level. However, jumps in the resonant energy level occur after the


emptying of the quantum well, that is, when there are no positive jumps in the particle number in the barriers or in the well. While these jumps may be related to single-electron trapping by the emitter wedge, the delay in the energy level jumps is most likely associated with the time scale of the period of the plasma oscillation. In addition, the development of a shallow potential well-barrier-wedge profile on the emitter side of the double-barrier structure appears to promote ”single-electron” dominated and thermally activated charge build-up in the wedge which, in turn, correlates with the fluctuating Poisson potential of the barrier edge in the emitter. This may have additional ramifications for the RTN of the resonant energy level. We propose that this novel physical mechanism discussed here may also play a role in the observed RTN in large-area double-barrier structures found by Arce at al [6], since this is not confined to small-area double-barrier structures. Our results suggest that this is a phenomenon intrinsic to the type of double-barrier structures considered here and, in the limit of small cross-sectional area, is closely tied to true single-electron tunneling events where the quantum well will indeed act as a single-electron trap. We have not yet been able to fully resolve the fluctuations in the terminal current due to the masking of the effect of a single super-particle by statistical noise in the charge collected at the terminal which may also be related to the way the Ohmic boundary condition is implemented in MC simulations. More refined postprocessing and analysis of the simulation data is required to isolate this aspect of MC noise. The authors are grateful to the Office of Naval Research for support of this work. R. E. Salvino was a NRC/ NRL Co-operative Research Associate. References [1] K. S. Ralls, W. J. Skocpol, L. D Jackel, R. E. Howard, L. A, Fetter, R. W. Epworth, and D. M. Tennant, Phys. Rev. Lett., 51, 228 (1984). [2] C. T. Rogers sand R. A. Buhrman, Phys. Rev. Lett., 53, 1272 (1984). [3] M. J. Uren, D. J. Day, and M. J. Kirton, Appl. Phys. Lett., 47, 1195 (1985). [4] R. T. Wakai and D. J. Van Harlingen, Appl. Phys. Lett., 49, 593 (1986). [5] K. R. Farmer, C. T. Rogers, and R. A. Buhrman, Phys. Rev. Lett., 58, 2255 (1987).


[6] R. Arce. L. Ley, and M. Hundhausen, J. Non-Cryst. Solids, 114, 696 (1989). [7] E. S. Snow, P. M. Campbell, O. J. Glembocki, W. J. Moore, and S. W. Kirchoefer, Appl. Phys. Lett., 56, 117 (1990). [8] P. M. Campbell, E. S. Snow, W. J. Moore, O. J. Glembocki, and S. W. Kirchoefer, Phys. Rev. Lett., 67, 1330 (1991). [9] R. E. Salvino and F. A. Buot, J. Appl. Phys., 72, 5975 (1992). [10] F. A. Buot and K. L. Jensen, COMPEL, 10, 241 (1991).