Public Release: 

A breakthrough in 'dead layer' of antiferromagnet

University of Science and Technology of China

Since the early 1930s when Louis Néel found the anomaly that some materials containing magnetic elements and showing zero remanence at all temperatures did not follow the paramagnetic Curie law, the constant low-temperature susceptibility behind this phenomenon which is called antiferromagnet (AFM) has drew tremendous attentions and found numerous applications, especially in the area of improved computer memory units.

Synthetic antiferromagnets (S-AFMs) are antiferromagnets built with ferromagnetic (FM) layers periodically interleaved with metallic or insulating spacers where the magnetization of adjacent FM layers alternates owing to the antiferromagnetic (AF) interlayer exchange coupling (IEC).

S-AFMs composed of transition metals and alloys has been well developed, however, the layer-resolved magnetic switching in S-AFMs with correlated oxide multilayers is rarely observed. Meanwhile, S-AFMs with correlated oxides has been challenging partially because of the markedly degraded ferromagnetism of the magnetic layer at nanoscale thicknesses. And this "dead layer" effect can be one of the major obstacles to the development of all-oxide S-AFMs.

Prof. WU Wenbin's group from University of Science and Technology of China of Chinese Academy of Sciences made a breakthrough to solve the "dead layer" effect problem. The findings were published in Science.

They constructed S-AFMs using La2/3Ca1/3MnO3 (LCMO) as the magnetic layers, CaRu1/2Ti1/2O3 (CRTO) as the spacer layers, and (001)-oriented NdGaO3 (NGO) as the substrate. The layer-resolved magnetic switching led to sharp steplike hysteresis loops with magnetization plateaus depending on the repetition number of the stacking bilayers. The magnetization configurations can be switched at moderate fields of hundreds of oersted.

One of the main magnetic properties of the AF-IEC in LCMO/CRTO multilayers is that a TC of 182 K is greatly enhanced compared with the plain LCMO film but lower than the corresponding comparison LCMO/CRO superlattice SL (TC ~ 265 K). Besides, the LCMO/CRTO superlattice (SL) showed a decrease of moments at 140 K, researchers believed that such a drop compared to the LCMO/CRO SL in magnetization is recognized as a signature of the AF-IEC between FM LCMO layers across the CRTO spacers.

To directly demonstrate the AF-IEC in these SLs, they also performed polarized neutron reflectivity (PNR) measurements on the LCMO/CRTO SL, [2.8/1.2]10. At a low field of 30 Oe, both the spin-up (R+) and spin-down (R-) polarized neutrons show reflections at QZ = 0.78 nm-1, leaving a periodicity of twice the bilayer thickness (8 nm). Such a magnetic periodicity means the AF-IEC in the SL. However, at a high field of 5000 Oe, these reflections are fully suppressed, and new ones appear at exactly the structural Bragg peak at QZ = 1.57 nm-1, indicating the transition from antiparallel to parallel magnetic alignments of all the LCMO layers.

In summary, researchers demonstrated AF-IEC with layer-resolved magnetic switching for LCMO/CRTO SLs. And they found that the AF-IEC is tunable via the Ti-doping level of the CRTO spacer and the growth orientations. The system they developed in this paper can also be extended for further possible applications, such as biotechnology applications and spintronic applications.

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