Properties of Fe/ZnSe Heterostructures : A Step Towards Semiconductor Spintronics

Abstract: In the present thesis, the properties at ferromagnet/semiconductor interfaces, relevant for semiconductor spintronics applications, are addressed. Semiconductor spintronics refers to the possibility of storing information using the electron spin, additional to the electron charge, for enhanced flexibility in nanoscale semiconductor devices. The system under focus is the Fe/ZnSe(001) heterostructure, where ZnSe is a wide gap semiconductor ideally compatible with GaAs. The heterostructures are grown on GaAs(001) substrates by molecular beam epitaxy. From various electron-beam based diffraction, spectroscopy and microscopy techniques, it is shown that Fe grows epitaxially and predominantly in a layer-by-layer mode on ZnSe(001) with no presence of chemically reacted phases or interdiffusion. An in-plane uniaxial magnetic anisotropy (UMA) is detected for thin Fe films on ZnSe(001) by magnetometry, thus opposing the cubic symmetry of bcc Fe. From first principles calculations, the unidirectional sp3-bonds from ZnSe are shown to induce this uniaxiality. Moreover, an in-plane anisotropic lattice relaxation of Fe is found experimentally, seemingly as a consequence of the sp3-bonds, giving an additional UMA contribution via magneto-elastic coupling. It is proposed that these two effects are responsible for the much-debated UMA observed in Fe/semiconductor structures in general. The interface magnetism is probed by x-ray magnetic circular dichroism and Mössbauer spectroscopy. It is found that the magnetic moment at the interface is comparable or even enhanced with respect to the bulk Fe. These two experiments are believed to provide the first unambiguous proof of a persistent bulk magnetic moment at a transition metal/semiconductor interface. Spin-polarised transport measurements are performed on Fe/ZnSe/FeCo magnetic tunnel junctions. A magnetoresistance of 16% is found at low temperature, which evidences both the existence of interface spin polarisation, as inferred from the bulk magnetic moment above, and that the spin polarisation can be transmitted across the semiconductor barrier layer.