FILM DEPOSITION AND MICROFABRICATION OF MAGNETIC TUNNEL JUNCTIONS WITH AN MgO BARRIER
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Magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs), which consist of a thin insulation layer sandwiched by two ferromagnetic (FM) layers, are among the key devices of spintronics that have promising technological applications for computer hard disk drives, magnetic random access memory (MRAM) and other future spintronic devices. The work presented here is related to the development of relevant techniques for the preparation and characterization of magnetic films, exchanged biased systems and MTJs. The fabrication and characterization of PtMn/CoFe exchange biased systems and MTJs with Al-O barriers were undertaken when the new Aviza StratIon fxP ion beam deposition tool was developed by the project consortium funded by DTI MNT. After the Nordiko 9550 spintronic deposition tool was installed at Plymouth, the work focused on the development of MTJ multilayer stacks with layer structures of CoFeB/MgO/CoFe/IrMn and IrMn/CoFeB/MgO/CoFeB to achieve coherent tunneling with a crystalline MgO barrier. The film deposition, microfabrication, magnetic field annealing, microstructural and nano-scale characterization, magnetic and magneto-transport measurement for these devices have been systematically studied to achieve smooth interfaces and desired crystallographic textures and magnetic properties of layer stacks. Magnetoresistance (MR) of up to 200% was obtained from MTJs with a layer structure of Ta/CuN/Ta/CoFeB/MgO/CoFe/IrMn/Ta and a CuN bottom electrode. Enhanced exchange anisotropy from the bottom pinned IrMn/CoFeB stacks has been obtained, which demonstrated the possibility of fabricating MTJs with CoFeB as both the top and bottom FM electrodes with strong exchange bias. The origin of the enhanced exchange bias field was studied by employing high resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) and x-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) to examine the mmicrostructure properties and element specific magnetic properties of the stacks. Results demonstrate that the enhanced exchange anisotropy in the IrMn/CoFeB system is closely associated with the increased uncompensated interfacial spins. MTJs with layered structures of IrMn/CoFeB/MgO/CoFeB were prepared based on this exchange bias system. However, further work is required for the optimisation of the (001) crystallographic textures of the CoFeB/MgO/CoFeB stack to achieve coherent tunneling.
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