Scanning magnetic tunnel junction microscope for high-resolution imaging of remanent magnetization fields
Scanning magnetic microscopy is a new methodology for mapping magnetic fields with high spatial resolution and field sensitivity. An important goal has been to develop high-performance instruments that do not require cryogenic technology due to its high cost, complexity, and limitation on sensor-to-sample distance. Here we report the development of a low-cost scanning magnetic microscope based on commercial room-temperature magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) sensors that typically achieves spatial resolution better than 7 µm. By comparing different bias and detection schemes, optimal performance was obtained when biasing the MTJ sensor with a modulated current at 1.0 kHz in a Wheatstone bridge configuration while using a lock-in amplifier in conjunction with a low-noise custom-made preamplifier. A precision horizontal (x-y) scanning stage comprising two coupled nanopositioners controls the position of the sample and a linear actuator adjusts the sensor-to-sample distance. We obtained magnetic field sensitivities better than 150 nT/Hz1/2 between 0.1 and 10 Hz, which is a critical frequency range for scanning magnetic microscopy. This corresponds to a magnetic moment sensitivity of 10-14 A m2, a factor of 100 better than achievable with typical commercial superconducting moment magnetometers. It also represents an improvement in sensitivity by a factor between 10 and 30 compared to similar scanning MTJ microscopes based on conventional bias-detection schemes. To demonstrate the capabilities of the instrument, two polished thin sections of representative geological samples were scanned along with a synthetic sample containing magnetic microparticles. The instrument is usable for a diversity of applications that require mapping of samples at room temperature to preserve magnetic properties or viability, including paleomagnetism and rock magnetism, nondestructive evaluation of materials, and biological assays.