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Magnetic vortices play an important role in the switching behavior of micron- and submicron-sized ferromagnetic elements. We have prepared submicron permalloy elements by a combination of electron-beam lithography and liftoff technique on electron transparent membrane substrates. The magnetization reversal mechanism and the remanent magnetization configuration were observed by means of Lorentz transmission electron microscopy. In remanence, the investigated structures form a vortex configuration. In situ magnetizing experiments showed the possibility of adjusting the sense of magnetization rotation by introducing a slight geometric asymmetry to the otherwise circular nanostructures. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.