Date of this Version
Current Opinion in Solid State and Materials Science 18 (2014) 140–146; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cossms.2014.02.001
In magnetic random access memory (MRAM) devices, soft magnetic thin film elements such as permalloy (Py) are used as unit cells of information. The epitaxial integration of these elements with the technologically important substrate Si (100) and a thorough understanding of their magnetic properties are critical for CMOS-based magnetic devices. We report on the epitaxial growth of Ni82.5Fe17.5 (permalloy, Py) on Si (100) using a TiN/MgO buffer layer. Initial stages of growth are characterized by the formation of discrete islands that gradually merge into a continuous film as deposition times are extended. Interestingly, we find that the magnetic features of Py films in early stages of island coalescence are distinctly different from the films formed initially (discrete islands) and after extended deposition times (narrow distribution of equiaxed granular films). Isothermal in-plane and out-of-plane magnetic measurements performed on these transitional films show highly anisotropic magnetic behavior with an easy magnetization axis lying in the plane of the film. Importantly, when this sample is zero-field cooled, a positive exchange bias and vertical loop shift are observed, unusual for a soft ferromagnet like Py. Repeated field cycling and hysteresis loops up to the fields of 7T produced reproducible hysteresis loops indicating the existence of strongly pinned spin configurations. Classical interface related exchange bias models cannot explain the observed magnetic features of the transitional Py films. We believe that the anomalous magnetic behavior of such Py films may be explained by considering the highly irregular morphology that develops at intermediate growth times that are possibly also undergoing a transition from Bloch to Neel domain wall structures as a function of Py island size. This study broadens the current understanding of magnetic properties of Py thin layers for technological applications in magneto-electronic devices, integrated with Si (100).