We have studied chemical structures of the interface between the Al-oxide tunneling barrier and the underlying Co 90 Fe 10 layer in magnetic tunnel junctions when a 1-nm thick metallic Al barrier was oxidized by two different methods: plasma oxidation and radical oxidation. Our chemical analyses confirmed that the underlying CoFe layer was unavoidably attacked by oxygen during the oxidation and that this left different oxide states at the AlO x /CoFe interface, depending on the oxidation method. The radical oxidation required long oxidation time for optimizing tunneling performance and resulted in a large amount of oxygen at the interface, which, in turn, resulted in the formation of mostly α-Fe 2 O 3 and Al 2 O 3 . Conversely, the plasma oxidation required a relatively short oxidation time for optimization and left FeO as a dominant phase at the interface. Our results also show that the thermal treatment helped AlO x , an oxygen-deficient phase, to be re-oxidized and transformed into Al 2 O 3 , the thermodynamically stable stoichiometric phase. The oxygen that diffused from the reduced CoFe layer into the barrier is likely responsible for this oxygen enrichment. We show that such differences in the chemical structure of the interface are critical clues to understanding what causes the change in tunneling properties of magnetic tunnel junctions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Condensed Matter Physics
- Physics and Astronomy(all)
- Surfaces and Interfaces
- Surfaces, Coatings and Films