Interview with Vincent Chun from Spin Transfer Technologies

In October 2008, I had the chance of interviewing Vincent Chun from Spin Transfer Technologies. Vincent Chun is the executive in charge at Spin Transfer Technologies. He is also a Director of Allied Minds, the investment firm that provided pre-seed funding for STT. Dr. Chun has 23 years of experience in science, technology, and corporate and entrepreneurial business management. He has a Ph.D. from MIT and an MBA from Kellogg. Spin Transfer Technologies was jointly formed by Allied Minds and New York University, using technology developed by Dr. Andrew Kent at NYU’s Physics Department.

* Can you explain your STT-MRAM technology?
Spin Transfer Technologies’ MRAM innovation utilizes a deterministic mechanism to rotate the magnetization vector of a free magnetic layer. This is made possible by using an orthogonal orientation between the magnetization of the pinned and free magnetic layers. Because the magnetization reversal mechanism does not rely on thermodynamic processes to initiate the switching, there is no incubation delay – and the switch time is very short, while the power consumption is very small compared to spin-transfer techniques used by others. We call our technology Orthogonal Spin Transfer MRAM or OST-MRAM for short.

* How many people work in STT currently? 
Eight people are involved in STT activities at the moment.

* What is your plan? Do you want to license your IP, or perhaps try to make the chips yourself or with a partner?
We plan to make the chips with one or more partners, but will certainly be open to licensing the technology as well.

* Can you give some information about your financial situation? I understand that so far you got only a pre-seed investment from AlliedM Minds and NYU (end of 2007)?
We have gotten sufficient funding to prove out the technology and will be seeking additional funds for commercial product development. This initial investment is more than the typical seed round.

* Who are you business partners?
So far, we have been in technology prove-out mode, and have not approached potential business partners yet. We will begin reaching out to potential business partners in the next few months, as we start communicating our early results.

* If everything goes according to plan, when will we see products with your tech 'inside'? 
It is too early to say – I’d rather not put out estimates that are speculative. Much would depend on the next funding round and the partners that we end up working with. That said, we will likely have CMOS-integrated OST-MRAM prototypes by 2010.

* What are your thoughts on Freescale's MRAM products?
Freescale has demonstrated that there is a great market for MRAM products. They have paved the way for follow-on MRAM products that use spin transfer technology, currently being developed by many players.

* Can you compare your STT-RAM with other companies' tech (freescale, crocus, grandis, etc.)? 
All of the spin-transfer approaches that we are aware of involve stochastic processes in the magnetic vector switching. That is, the reversal is driven by both thermal energy and spin-transfer torques. This invariably requires a high current density and results in a slower, less reliable memory device. Our approach utilizes an orthogonal configuration of pinned and free magnetic layers that results in a deterministic switching process with a very short switching time and low power consumption.

* Do you think the current world financial situation might effect MRAM development?
I believe there will be some impact related to an expected overall market decline. However, the relative interest in MRAM compared to other computer memory technologies should not be impacted. The anticipated end user applications of MRAM products are in business equipment, laptops, and productivity devices, and not dominated by discretionary consumer products. Therefore, I believe the impact will be somewhat proportional to the overall economy. As for Spin Transfer Technologies, we plan to push ahead aggressively, with the expectation that the market will have improved by the time we come to market.

* Where do you see MRAM in about 5 years?
I would expect to see a number of spin-transfer based MRAM products on the market, and in an accelerating adoption mode. It will be seen as the next generation of memory device technology, given its technical advantages and its ability to consolidate the benefits of current volatile and non-volatile memory technologies.

* When do you estimate we'll be able to buy a MRAM-on-key or have MRAM in mobile phones or A/V players?
I won’t venture a guess, as conventional MRAM took quite some time to reach the market, and came out at a high price point. It’s really difficult to predict when the densities and prices will reach the point where you’ll see them as thumb drives or in consumer electronics. One thing that is almost certain, is that it will be based on spin-transfer technology.

* Where do you see Spin-Transfer-Technologies in about 5 years?
In five years, we expect Spin Transfer Technologies to be actively in the market, with product either directly offered or through licensing or other collaborative type arrangements.

Vincent - thank you for this interview. I hope we'll hear more of your STT-MRAM tech soon!

Ron Mertens,, October 2008.


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