Disentangling magnetic and grain contrast in polycrystalline FeGe thin films using four-dimensional Lorentz scanning transmission electron microscopy
The study of nanoscale chiral magnetic order in polycrystalline materials with a strong Dzyaloshinkii-Moriya interaction (DMI) is interesting for the observation of magnetic phenomena at grain boundaries and interfaces. One such material is sputter-deposited B20 FeGe on Si, which has been actively investigated as the basis for low-power, high-density magnetic memory technology in a scalable material platform. Although conventional Lorentz electron microscopy provides the requisite spatial resolution to probe chiral magnetic textures in single-crystal FeGe, probing the magnetism of sputtered B20 FeGe is more challenging because the sub-micron crystal grains add confounding contrast. We address the challenge of disentangling magnetic and grain contrast by applying 4-dimensional Lorentz scanning transmission electron microscopy using an electron microscope pixel array detector. Supported by analytical and numerical models, we find that the most important parameter for imaging magnetic materials with polycrystalline grains is the ability for the detector to sustain large electron doses, where having a high-dynamic range detector becomes extremely important. Despite the small grain size in sputtered B20 FeGe on Si, using this approach we are still able to observe helicity switching of skyrmions and magnetic helices across two adjacent grains as they thread through neighboring grains. We reproduce this effect using micromagnetic simulations by assuming that the grains have distinct orientation and magnetic chirality and find that magnetic helicity couples to crystal chirality. Our methodology for imaging magnetic textures is applicable to other thin-film magnets used for spintronics and memory applications, where an understanding of how magnetic order is accommodated in polycrystalline materials is important.