Spin-polarized transport in magnetic nanostructures
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Two of the principal phenomena observed and exploited in the field of spintronics are giant magnetoresistance (GMR) and spin transfer torque (STT). With GMR, the resistance of a magnetic multilayer is affected by the relative orientation of its magnetic layers due to (electron) spin dependent scattering. For the STT effect, a spin-polarized electric current is used to alter the magnetic state of a ferromagnet. Together, GMR and STT are at the foundation of numerous technologies, and they hold promise for many more applications. To achieve the high current densities (~10¹² A/m²) that are necessary to observe STT effects, point contacts – constricted electrical pathways (~1–100 nm in diameter) between conducting materials – are often used because of their small cross-sectional areas. In this sense, we have explored STT in bilayer magnetic nanopillars, where an electric current was used to induce precession of a ferromagnetic layer. This precessional state was detected as an increase in resistance of the device, akin to GMR. Temperature dependent measurements of the onset of precession shed light on the activation mechanism, but raised further questions about its detailed theory. Point contacts can also be used as local sources or detectors of electrons. In this context, we have observed transverse electron focusing (TEF) in a single crystal of bismuth. TEF is a k-selective technique for studying electron scattering from within materials. Using lithographically fabricated point contacts, we have studied the temperature dependence of the relaxation time for ballistic electrons from 4.2 to 100 K. These measurements indicated a transition between electron-electron dominated scattering at low temperatures and electron-phonon scattering as the Debye temperature was approached. We present preliminary work toward a TEF experiment to measure spin dependent scattering from a non-magnet/magnet interface. We also investigated spin wave propagation in thin, magnetic waveguide structures. At the boundary between the waveguide and continuous magnetic film, spin wave rays were found to radiate into the film, or to reflect and form standing waves in the waveguide. A circular defect in the waveguide was observed to cause diffraction of spin waves, generating an interference pattern of higher modes of oscillation.