Evolution of barrier asymmetry in magnetic tunnel junctions

Bru¨ckl, H.; Schmalhorst, J.; Reiss, G.; Gieres, G.; Wecker, J.
February 2001
Applied Physics Letters;2/19/2001, Vol. 78 Issue 8, p1113
Academic Journal
Magnetic tunnel junctions usually consist of different layer stacks at the two sides of the tunneling barrier. The exposure of these junctions to high temperatures thus can induce large asymmetries in the electronic potential with respect to the barrier. Using the example of Co/Cu/Co/Al[sub 2]O[sub 3]/Co tunnel junctions, we show that the measured current/voltage characteristics develop a large asymmetry upon annealing at a temperature larger than 230 °C. This is accompanied by a Cu enrichment at one side of the barrier and cannot be explained by simply using the work function differences between the electrode materials. Thus, a Cu-Al[sub 2]O[sub 3] intermixing zone at the barrier interface must be taken into account, which leads to an asymmetric step-like barrier shape. The interpretation is supported by numerical evaluation of model barriers which reproduce the experimental asymmetries if an intermixing zone of only 0.2 nm thickness is assumed. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.


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