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Spin polarized scanning tunneling microscopy

Spin polarized scanning tunneling microscopy (SP-STM) is a specialized application of scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) that can provide detailed information of magentic phenomena on the single atom scale additional to the atomic topology gained with STM. SP-STM was developed at the University of Hamburg (Germany) and opened a novel approach to static and dynamic magnetic processes as precise investigations of domain walls in ferromgnetic and antiferromagnetic systems, as well as thermal and current induced switching of nanomagnetic particles.

How it works

An extremely sharp tip coated with a thin layer of magnetic material is moved systematically over a sample. A voltage is applied between the tip and the sample allowing electrons to tunnel between the two, resulting in a current. In the absence of magnetic phenomena, the strength of this current is indicative for local electronic properties.

If the tip is magnetized, however, electrons with spins matching the tip's magnetization will have a higher chance of tunneling. This is essentially the effect of tunnel magnetoresistance and the tip/surface essentially acts as a spin valve.

Since a scan using only a magnetized tip cannot distinguish between current changes due to magnetization or space separation, multi-domain structures and/or topological information from another source (frequently conventional STM) must be utilized. Then, magnetic imaging down to the atomic scale, i.e. for example in antiferromagnetic system, can be achieved.

Nowadays, antiferromagnetic tips are preferred since ferromagnetic tips induce magnetization reversal in the systems to be studied due to stray fields. In STM tunneling electrons come from the very same atom most close to the surface. Therefore, with the magnetization of this atom well defined, the tunneling current remains polarized for antiferromagnetic tips but without stray field.

Alternate Method

Another way to obtain the magnetization distribution is to have the tip provide a strong stream of spin polarized electrons. One method to achieve this is to shine polarization laser light onto a GaAs tip, which produces spin polarized electrons due to spin-orbit coupling. The tip is then scanned along the sample much like conventional STM. One limitation of this method is that the most effective source of spin polarized electrons is obtained by having the incident laser light shine directly opposite of the tip, i.e. through the sample itself. This restricts the method to measuring thin samples.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Spin_polarized_scanning_tunneling_microscopy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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