Spin-dependent tunneling in epitaxial Fe/Cr/MgO/Fe magnetic tunnel junctions with an ultrathin Cr(001) spacer layer
We fabricated fully epitaxial Fe/Cr/MgO/Fe(001) magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs) with an atomically flat ultrathin Cr(001) layer grown below the MgO barrier layer and studied the spin-dependent transport to clarify scattering process of tunneling electrons. Because Cr does not have Bloch states with ∆1 symmetry at the Fermi energy (EF) , ∆1 evanescent states in MgO, which dominantly mediate the tunneling current, cannot couple with Cr Bloch states without a scattering process. The Fe/Cr/MgO/Fe(001) MTJs are therefore a model system for studying nonspecular scattering processes where the orbital symmetry of tunneling states is not conserved. The resistance-area (RA) product of the MTJs was found to not increase exponentially as a function of the Cr thickness (tCr) , indicating that the Cr layer does not act as a perfect tunnel barrier despite of the absence of ∆1 states at EF . Moreover, the magnetoresistance ratio of the MTJs was seen to oscillate as a function of tCr with a period of 2 monolayers, reflecting the layered antiferromagnetic structure of Cr(001). Surprisingly, the MR ratio showed local maxima at the odd numbers of Cr monolayers and local minima at the even numbers of Cr monolayers, indicating that the tunneling current is oppositely spin polarized with respect to the interface magnetization. These results suggest that nonspecular scatterings mediate the coupling between evanescent states in MgO and certain non- ∆1 Bloch states in Cr that have negative spin polarization, thereby inducing nonspecular tunneling current even at a low temperature and a small bias voltage. We also investigated, as a reference sample, Fe/MgO/Cr/Fe MTJs with a less-oxidized Cr/MgO interface by growing the Cr(001) layer on the MgO barrier layer and found that their RA product increased much more rapidly with increasing tCr . This indicates that partial oxidation of interface Cr atoms in the Fe/Cr/MgO/Fe MTJs is one of the major origins of nonspecular scatterings. Both an increase in temperature and the application of bias voltage were found to greatly enhance the electron scattering that gives rise to tunneling conductance. While the temperature dependence of the antiparallel conductance due to magnon scatterings follows the Bloch T3/2 law, the conductance due to nonspecular scatterings deviates from the Bloch T3/2 law. The present experimental results give us important clues to a clearer understanding of the tunneling process in MgO-based MTJs.