In this paper we review studies on spin-dependent transport in systems containing ferromagnetic nanoparticles. In a tunnel junction with a nanometer-scale-island, the charging effect leads to an electric current blockade phenomenon in which a single electron charge plays a significant role in electron transport, resulting in single-electron tunneling (SET) properties such as Coulomb blockade and Coulomb staircase. In a tunnel junction with a ferromagnetic nano-island and electrode, it was expected that the interplay of spin-dependent tunneling (SDT) and SET, i.e., spin-dependent single-electron tunneling (SD-SET), would give rise to remarkable tunnel magnetoresistance (TMR) phenomena. We investigated magnetotransport properties in both sequential tunneling and cotunneling regimes of SET and found the enhancement and oscillation of TMR. The self-assembled ferromagnetic nanoparticles we have employed in this study consisted of a Co-Al-O granular film with cobalt nanoparticles embedded in an Al-O insulating matrix. A Co36 Al22 O42 film prepared by a reactive sputtering method produced a TMR ratio reaching 10% and superparamagnetic behavior at room temperature. The TMR ratio exhibited an anomalous increase at low temperatures but no indication of change with bias voltage. In Section 4, we show that the anomalous increase of the MR provided evidence for higher-order tunneling (cotunneling) between large granules through intervening small granules. We emphasize that the existence of higher-order tunneling is a natural consequence of the granular structure, since broad distribution of granule size is an intrinsic property of granular systems. In Section 5, we concentrate on SD-SET properties in sequential tunneling regimes. We fabricated two types of device structures with Co-Al-O film using focused ion-beam milling or electron-beam lithography techniques. One had a granular nanobridge structure: point-shaped electrodes separated by a very narrow lateral gap filled with the Co-Al-O granular film. The other had a current-perpendicular-to-plane (CPP) geometry structure: a thin Co-Al-O granular film sandwiched by ferromagnetic electrodes with the current flowing in the direction perpendicular to the film plane through a few Co particles. We found the enhancement and oscillation of TMR due to spin-dependent SET in sequential tunneling regimes. In Section 6, we report experimental evidence of a spin accumulation effect in Co nanoparticles leading to the oscillation of TMR with alternate sign changes. Furthermore, we discovered that the spin relaxation time in the nanoparticles is unprecedentedly enhanced up to the order of more than hundreds of nanoseconds, compared to that evaluated from the spin-diffusion length of ferromagnetic layers in previous CPP-GMR studies, i.e., the order of tens of picoseconds.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)