Orbital origin of the electrical conduction in ferromagnetic atomic-size contacts: Insights from shot noise measurements and theoretical simulations

R Vardimon and M Matt and P Nielaba and JC Cuevas and O Tal, PHYSICAL REVIEW B, 93, 085439 (2016).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevB.93.085439

With the goal of elucidating the nature of spin-dependent electronic transport in ferromagnetic atomic contacts, we present here a combined experimental and theoretical study of the conductance and shot noise of metallic atomic contacts made of the 3d ferromagnetic materials Fe, Co, and Ni. For comparison, we also present the corresponding results for the noble metal Cu. Conductance and shot noise measurements, performed using a low-temperature break-junction setup, show that in these ferromagnetic nanowires, (i) there is no conductance quantization of any kind, (ii) transport is dominated by several partially open conduction channels, even in the case of single-atom contacts, and (iii) the Fano factor of large contacts saturates to values that clearly differ from those of monovalent (nonmagnetic) metals. We rationalize these observations with the help of a theoretical approach that combines molecular dynamics simulations to describe the junction formation with nonequilibrium Green's function techniques to compute the transport properties within the Landauer-Buttiker framework. Our theoretical approach successfully reproduces all the basic experimental results and it shows that all the observations can be traced back to the fact that the d bands of the minority-spin electrons play a fundamental role in the transport through ferromagnetic atomic-size contacts. These d bands give rise to partially open conduction channels for any contact size, which in turn lead naturally to the different observations described above. Thus, the transport picture for these nanoscale ferromagnetic wires that emerges from the ensemble of our results is clearly at variance with the well established conduction mechanism that governs the transport in macroscopic ferromagnetic wires, where the d bands are responsible for the magnetism but do not take part in the charge flow. These insights provide a fundamental framework for ferromagnetic-based spintronics at the nanoscale.

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