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Occasional “long-range” nonequilibrium body-centered-cubic structures in NiFe/Cu spin valves

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8 Author(s)
Geng, H. ; Department of Materials Science and Mechanics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824 ; Heckman, J.W. ; Pratt, W.P. ; Bass, J.
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We describe conventional and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) characterization of the microstructure of sputtered NiFe/Cu giant magnetoresistance spin valves (Cu/FeMn/NiFe/Cu/NiFe) sandwiched between thick Nb contact layers. Six spin valves, sputtered at different temperatures, three with thin (3 nm) and three with thick (24 and 30 nm) NiFe layers, were studied. All of the spin-valve layers were smooth and continuous, consisting of columnar grains generally 20–90 nm wide. In most cases, the grains had grown epitaxially from the bottom contact, through the entire multilayer, to the top contact layer. The columnar grains grew on the closest-packed planes (i.e., {110} planes for bcc Nb and {111} planes for fcc Cu, FeMn, and NiFe spin-valve components). This epitaxial growth yields an apparent Kurdjumov–Sachs {111}fcc||{110}bcc; <110>fcc||<111>bcc orientation relationship. However, HRTEM imaging supported by fast Fourier transform analysis reveals that in some of the columnar grains the Cu, FeMn, and NiFe layers take up a nonequilibrium bcc structure. In these cases, the bcc Cu, FeMn, and NiFe layers grow on {110} planes and are epitaxial with the Nb contacts for the individual grain columns. While bcc Cu has been observed elsewhere, the length scale of the nonequilibrium bcc phases reported here is an order of magnitude greater than previously observed. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.

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Journal of Applied Physics  (Volume:86 ,  Issue: 8 )