The development of magnetic tunnel junction fabrication techniques

Change log
Elwell, Clifford Alastair 

The discovery of large, room temperature magnetoresistance (MR) in magnetic tunnel junctions in 1995 sparked great interest in these devices. Their potential applications include hard disk read head sensors and magnetic random access memory (MRAM). However, the fabrication of repeatable, high quality magnetic tunnel junctions is still problematic. This thesis investigates methods to improve and quantify the quality of tunnel junction fabrication. Superconductor-insulator-superconductor (SIS) and superconductor-insulatorferromagnet (SIF) tunnel junctions were used to develop the fabrication route, due to the ease of identifying their faults. The effect on SIF device quality of interchanging the top and bottom electrodes was monitored. The relationship between the superconducting and normal state characteristics of SIS junctions was investigated. Criteria were formulated to identify devices in which tunneling is not the principal conduction mechanism in normal metal-insulator-normal metal junctions. Magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs) were produced on the basis of the fabrication route developed with SIS and SIF devices. MTJs in which tunneling is the principal conduction mechanism do not necessarily demonstrate high MR, due to effects such as magnetic coupling between the electrodes and spin scattering. Transmission electron microscope images were used to study magnetic tunnel junction structure, revealing an amorphous barrier and crystalline electrodes. The decoration of pinholes and weak-links by copper electrodeposition was investigated. A new technique is presented to identify the number of copper deposits present in a thin insulating film. The effect of roughness, aluminium thickness and voltage on the number of pinholes and weak-links per unit area was studied. High frequency testing of read heads at wafer level was performed with a network analyser. Design implications for read head geometry were investigated, independent of magnetic performance. This technique has great potential to aid the rapid development of read and write heads whilst improving understanding of the system.

Tunnel Junctions, Nanofabrication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
EPSRC Seagate Technology