Nonuniform and sequential magnetization reversal via domain structure formation for multilayered system with grain size induced enhanced exchange bias

A. Paul*, E. Kentzinger, U. Rücker, D. E. Bürgler, P. Grünberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We report on the magnetization reversal in series of exchange-biased multilayers NiFe(10.0 nm)/[ Ir20Mn80(6.0 nm)/Co80Fe20(3.0 nm)] N studied by specular reflection and off-specular scattering of polarized neutrons. All specimens are sputtered and post-annealed at 530 K (i.e. above the IrMn Néel temperature of 520 K) in Ar atmosphere before cooling to room temperature in the presence of a field of 130 Oe which induces the unidirectional anisotropy. We find HEB is dependent upon the number of bilayers N as it gradually increases from 0.33 kOe for N=1 to a considerably higher value of upto ≈0.9 kOe for N=10. X-ray specular and diffuse scattering data reveal no significant variation of the lateral correlation length and only a weak dependence of the vertical rms interface roughness on N. Atomic and magnetic force microscopy, however, show a strong reduction of the grain size accompanied by distinct changes of the ferromagnetic domain structure. The enhancement of the exchange bias effect is presumably related to the shrinking of the related domain size in the antiferromagnet due to the structural evolution in the multilayers. Polarized neutron reflectometry (PNR) measurements are done at different applied fields sweeping both branches of the hysteresis loop. The spin-flip (SF) cross section of both the N=10 and 3 samples show diffusely scattered intensity appears gradually as the field approaches HEB and is most intense where the net magnetization vanishes. The disappearance of diffuse scattering in saturation indicates that the off-specular intensity is related to the reversal process. The reversal proceeds sequentially starting with the bottom (top) CoFe layer for decreasing (increasing) field and is related to the evolution of the grain size along the stack. The reversal of each CoFe layer is for both field branches due to domain wall motion. Thus as a main result, we observe a sequential and symmetric magnetization reversal in exchange-biased multilayers. The concomitant in-plane magnetization fluctuations revealed by off-specular spin-flip scattering indicate a more complex reversal mechanism than hitherto considered. Moreover, although the grain size decreases from N=3 to 10 by a factor of about four the reversal mechanism remains similar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-260
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Physical Journal B
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


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