A new paradigm for exchange bias in polycrystalline thin films

K. O'Grady, L. E. Fernandez-Outon, Gonzalo Vallejo Fernandez

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In this paper we provide a review and overview of a series of works generated in our laboratory over the last 5 years. These works have described the development and evolution of a new paradigm for exchange bias in polycrystalline thin films with grain sizes in the range 5-15 nm. We have shown that the individual grains in the antiferromagnetic(AF) layer of exchange bias systems contain a single AF domain and reverse over an energy barrier which is grain volume dependent. We show that the AF grains are not coupled to each other and behave independently. Understanding this process and using designed measurement protocols has enabled us to determine unambiguously the blocking temperature distribution of the AF grains, the anisotropy constant (K-AF) of the AF, understand the AF grain-setting process, and predict its magnetic viscosity. We can explain and predict the grain size and film thickness dependence of the exchange field H-ex. We have also studied interfacial effects and shown that there are processes at the interface, which can occur independently of the bulk of the AF grains. We have seen these effects via studies of trilayers and also via the field dependence of the setting process which does not affect the blocking. From separate experiments we have shown that the disordered interfacial spins exist as spin clusters analogous to a spin glass. These clusters can order spontaneously at low temperatures or can be ordered by the setting field. We believe it is the degree of order of the interfacial spins that gives rise to the coercivity in exchange bias systems. Based on this new understanding of the behaviour of the bulk of the grains in the antiferromagnet and the interfacial spins we believe that we have now a new paradigm for the phenomenon of exchange bias in sputtered polycrystalline thin films. We emphasize that the phenomenological model does not apply to core-shell particles, epitaxial single-crystal films and large grain polycrystalline films. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-899
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • Exchange bias
  • Polycrystalline films
  • Grain size
  • Interface effects
  • Spin clusters

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