Effects of elemental distributions on the behavior of MgO-based magnetic tunnel junctions

Daniel K. Schreiber, Young Suk Choi, Yuzi Liu, Ann N. Chiaramonti, David N. Seidman, Amanda K. Petford-Long

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15 Scopus citations


Three-dimensional atom-probe tomography and transmission electron microscopy have been utilized to study the effects of Ta getter presputtering and either a Mg or Ru free-layer cap on the elemental distributions and properties of MgO-based magnetic tunnel junctions after annealing. Annealing the samples resulted in crystallization of the amorphous CoFeB layer and diffusion of the majority of the boron away from the crystallized CoFeB layers. The Ta getter presputter is found to reduce the segregation of boron at the MgO/CoFeB interface after annealing, improving the tunneling magnetoresistance of the tunnel junction. This effect is observed for samples with either a Ru free-layer cap or a Mg free-layer cap and is thought to be a result of a reduced oxygen concentration within the MgO due to the effect of Ta getter presputtering. A Ru free-layer cap provides superior magnetic and magnetotransport properties compared to a Mg free-layer cap. Mg from the Mg free-layer cap is observed to diffuse toward the MgO tunnel barrier upon annealing, degrading both the crystalline quality of the CoFeB and magnetic isolation of the CoFeB free-layer from the CoFeB reference-layer. Lateral variations in the B distribution within the CoFeB free-layer are observed in the samples with a Ru free-layer cap, which are associated with crystalline and amorphous grains. The B-rich, amorphous grains are found to be depleted in Fe, while the B-poor crystalline grains are slightly enriched in Fe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103909
JournalJournal of Applied Physics
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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