Epitaxial thin films of L10-ordered FePt alloys are one of the most important materials in magnetic recording and spintronics applications due to their large perpendicular magnetic anisotropy (PMA). The key to the production of these required superior properties lies in the control of the growth mode of the films. Further, it is necessary to distinguish between the effect of lattice mismatch and surface free energy on the growth mode because of their strong correlation. In this study, the effect of surface free energy on the growth mode of FePt epitaxial films was investigated using MgO, NiO, and MgON surfaces with almost the same lattice constant to exclude the effect of lattice mismatch. It was found that the growth mode can be tuned from a three-dimensional (3D) island mode on MgO to a more two-dimensional (2D)-like mode on MgON and NiO. Contact angle measurements revealed that MgON and NiO show larger surface free energy than MgO, indicating that the difference in the growth mode is due to their larger surface free energy. In addition, MgON was found to induce not only a flat surface as FePt grown on SrTiO3 (STO), which has a small lattice mismatch, but also a larger PMA than that of STO/FePt. As larger lattice mismatch is favored to induce a higher PMA into the FePt films, MgO substrates are exclusively used, but 3D island growth is indispensable. This work demonstrates that tuning the surface free energy enables us to achieve a large PMA and flat film surface in FePt epitaxial films on MgO. The results also indicate that modifying the surface free energy is pertinent for the flexible functional design of thin films.
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