Magnetics Society Distinguished Lecturers 2004

Dynamics, Damping and Defects in Thin Ferromagnetic Films
Robert D. McMichael
National Institute of Standards and Technology

Modern disk drives can read and write bits every two nanoseconds, a time scale very similar to the magnetic damping time of the ferromagnetic metals used in the heads.  The damping characteristics are also important for thermally-driven magnetic noise in sensors. Furthermore, it seems likely that damping will limit data rates in magnetic random access memory, since the magnetization in a memory cell must be allowed to settle between switching events. For all of these applications, measurements of damping are important, and these measurements are most commonly made by ferromagnetic resonance linewidth. The two problems that complicate measurements of damping by ferromagnetic resonance are: 1) defects contribute to the linewidth, so that the linewidth is the combined effect of defects and damping, and 2) the form of the damping itself is the subject of some debate.

Patterning is perhaps the ultimate form of magnetic inhomogeneity in a thin film.  Unlike the spin-wave normal modes of a continuous film, the normal modes of patterned elements are shape and size dependent. The dynamic properties can be addressed using available micromagnetic modeling software to obtain images of the normal mode precession patterns.

In this lecture, I will discuss primarily the role of defects in magnetization dynamics. I will emphasize the competition between interactions, which promotes the collective behavior typified by spin waves, and inhomogeneity, which promotes local behavior.  An understanding of these effects allows one to use linewidth data to characterize damping and inhomogeneity separately.  I will show examples of line widths and modeling from nominally uniform films, exchange biased films, films with wavy substrates, and films with nonuniform magnetization.

Robert D. McMichael (M’92) received the B.S. degree in engineering-physics from Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, in 1985 and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from The Ohio State University, Columbus, in 1990.

In 1990, he was awarded a National Research Council postdoctoral associateship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and he has continued in the Magnetic Materials Group of the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory of NIST. His research interests have touched on a diverse set of topics, including: nonlinear magnetization dynamics, ferromagnetic resonance, magnetic refrigeration, hysteresis modeling, giant magnetoresistance, exchange bias, computational micromagnetics, and magnetization dynamics. He currently serves as leader of the Nanomagnetodyamics project in NIST's Metallurgy Division.

Dr. McMichael serves on the editorial board of IEEE Transactions on Magnetics and on the advisory committee for the Magnetism and Magnetic Materials (MMM) conference. He created the logos for several recent MMM conferences.

Contact: Robert D. McMichael, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8552, Gaithersburg MD 20899;  telephone: (301) 975 5121; fax: (301) 975 4553; e-mail:

Assault on Storage Density of 1 Terabit per Square Inch and Beyond
Dieter Weller
Seagate Technology

The areal density in magnetic recording has surpassed 50 Gbit/in2 in products and 100 Gbit/in2 in laboratory demonstrations. These densities have been achieved with recording media composed of Co-alloy nanostructured materials with horizontal orientation of the magnetization (longitudinal recording). Grain sizes are 8 to 10 nm and grain size distributions are near 20% (standard deviation divided by the mean). Going much beyond 100 Gbit/in2 requires magnetically harder materials with smaller, thermally stable grains (5 to 8 nm) and tighter distributions  (< 15%). Experiments indicate that this may be possible in perpendicular recording, where a soft magnetic imaging layer is used to enhance the write field and enable such grains to be switched. Basic technology demonstrations of about 110 Gbit/in2 have already been reported, and modeling suggests that extensions to about 1 Tbit/in2 should be possible using that technology.

Going much beyond Tbit/in2, however, will require more drastic changes of heads and media. One of the fundamental limitations relates to the media sputter fabrication process, which may not allow the tight grain size and magnetic dispersions required in models. So-called “self-organized magnetic arrays” (SOMA) of chemically synthesized Fe-Pt nanoparticles are being explored as alternatives. These structures not only show extremely tight size distributions (< 5%) but are also magnetically much harder than current Co alloys. Writing will require temporal heating and cooling in a magnetic field, as in heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR). A combination of SOMA and HAMR may eventually lead to recording on a single particle per bit, with ultimate densities near 50 Tbit/in2 (with 10 years storage time, ambient temperature, and Fe-Pt type anisotropies).

Dieter Weller received the Diploma in physics from the University of Marburg, Germany, in 1982 and the Ph.D. degree in physics from the University of Cologne, Germany, in 1985.

From 1985 to 1990 he worked at the Siemens AG Central Research Laboratories in Erlangen, Germany, on the design, fabrication, and characterization of magneto-optic recording materials and disks. From 1990 through 2000 was with the IBM Research Division in San Jose, CA, where he worked on electronic, magnetic, and magneto-optical properties of thin films and multilayers. He joined Seagate Research in Pittsburgh, PA, in April 2000 as Director of Media Research. His current interests include the exploration of extremely high density magnetic recording schemes and the fabrication of novel nano-phase magnetic materials. He has published over 200 scientific papers as well as several book articles. He is co-editor of The Physics of High Density Magnetic Recording (Springer-Verlag, 2001). He holds eight U.S. patents and has 15 pending patent applications.

Dr. Weller is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and a member of the American Vacuum Society (AVS). He has served as guest editor for the Journal of Applied Physics and IEEE Transactions on Magnetics and was program co-chair of the 8th Joint Magnetism and Magnetic Materials/Intermag Conference (2001).

Contact:  Dieter Weller, Seagate Research Center, Seagate Technology, 1251 Waterfront Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; telephone: (412) 918 7128; fax: (412) 918 7222; e-mail:

Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory: The Path to Competitiveness
Jian-Gang (Jimmy) Zhu
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh PA

With the first commercial product on the horizon, magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) is on a path to replace static random access memory (SRAM), dynamic random access memory (DRAM), and flash memory (and even disk drives in some applications) as the universal solid-state memory. Non-volatility, fast access time, and compatibility with CMOS technology are three of the most important features that make MRAM potentially superior to other existing memory technologies. To fully exploit these potentials, present MRAM designs need to overcome three major obstacles: stringent fabrication tolerances, relatively high power consumption, and response to write addressing disturbances. Although prototype memory devices have been successfully demonstrated, new, innovative designs are still required to make the technology truly competitive.

In the designs employed by today’s MRAM manufacturers, the magnetic moment in a memory element is effectively linear, with its orientation representing the memory state “1” or “0.” Switching between the two memory states is done by the Ampérean field generated by currents in a pair of orthogonal conducting wires, often referred to as cross-point writing. The cross-point write addressing scheme generates write disturbances because the half-selected memory elements along each of the activated wires experience one of the two field components during a write operation. The result is a stringent requirement for a narrow switching field distribution for all the elements in a memory block, and consequently a stringent fabrication tolerance. The phenomenon is further exacerbated by the possibility of undesired thermally-activated magnetization reversals, especially at small physical dimensions of the memory elements.

The lecture will cover the micromagnetic magnetization reversal processes in various types of MRAM elements. Over the past seven years, extensive micromagnetic analyses and experimental investigations have provided key understanding to obtain robust magnetic switching, and they have become the design principles for today’s memory elements. I will present a comprehensive study of thermally-activated magnetization reversal at small physical dimensions for various MRAM designs and will discuss the imposed area storage density limitations due to the write disturbance. I will conclude by introducing a novel design that completely eliminates the write addressing disturbance and substantially lowers power consumption by utilizing the spin transfer effect.

Jian-Gang (Jimmy) Zhu (M’89, SM’02) received the B.S. degree in physics from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China in 1982 and the M.S. and the Ph.D. degrees, both in physics, from the University of California, San Diego in 1983 and 1989, respectively. In 1990 he joined the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota  as an Assistant Professor and in 1992 was appointed to the McKnight Land Grant Professorship by the Regents. In 1997 he joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, where he is now the ABB Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Data Storage Systems Center. He has authored or co-authored over 170 technical papers and presented over 40 invited talks at international conferences. He has supervised and graduated 19 Ph.D. students. Currently his research includes MRAM device design, GMR head design, thin film recording media, digital tape recording systems, patterned media, and magnetization noise in magnetic nano-sensors. He is an advisory editor for the Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials.

Prof. Zhu was a recipient of a 1993-97 NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. His patent, “Ultra-High Density Magnetic Sensor,” won a “Top 100 Inventions” award given by R&D Magazine in 1996.

Contact: Professor Jian-Gang (Jimmy) Zhu, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890; telephone: (412) 268 8373; fax: (412) 268 8554; e-mail: