STM-induced reversible switching of local conductivity in thin Al2O3 films

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Abstract

The local electron transport properties of thin aluminum oxide layers used for magnetic tunnel junctions were studied in situ by scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and spectroscopy under ultrahigh-vacuum conditions. The STM images of the oxide films reveal a granular structure, down to atomic resolution. A reversible switching of the conductive properties of grains, attributed to a charge redistribution, is observed during scanning. We demonstrate the possibility of intentionally switching a grain to the low-resistance state by exposing it to a high current density. We conjecture that the observed switching behavior may be considered as the precursor of an electric breakdown in tunnel junctions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153407
Pages (from-to)153407-1/4
JournalPhysical Review B
Volume64
Issue number15
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001

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