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Hard–soft spin valve structures have been grown by molecular beam epitaxy on MgO(001) substrates. The hard magnetic layer consists of (Co50Fe50)/Ir/(Co50Fe50) artificial ferrimagnetic (AFi) system, while a Fe/Co bilayer integrated in the buffer, has been used as a soft detection layer. The Fe has been grown at 500 °C giving rise to a monocrystalline layer with a body centered cubic structure. The spin valve structure presents a progressive evolution after successive annealing steps up to 350 °C. The total giant magnetoresistance (GMR) reaches its maximum (5.3%) after annealing at 250 °C, together with a good rigidity of the hard layer and a sharp switch of the magnetic moments. Such characteristics are reduced, but still interesting, after annealing at 300 °C. For annealing at higher temperature (350 °C) the total GMR signal and the coercive field of the AFi decrease dramatically and all the stack behaves like a single magnetic layer. Rutherford backscattering measurements were performed in order to investigate the changes in the morphology of CoFe/Ir interfaces and to correlate them to the magnetotransport properties. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.
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