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Magnetically disordered phase in epitaxial iron-deficient F e3 O4 thin films


We report on the transport and magnetic properties of iron-deficient Fe3O4(Fe3-δO4) thin films grown with pulsed-laser deposition, where the stoichiometry and amount of cation vacancies are precisely controlled through changes in the oxygen partial pressure during growth. As the stoichiometry evolves from Fe3O4 to γ-Fe2O3, three distinct structural and magnetic regimes emerge: a Fe3O4-like regime, a γ-Fe2O3-like regime, and a transition regime. While reflection high-energy electron diffraction measurements reveal that films in all three regimes grow epitaxially cube-on-cube on MgO substrates, the transition-regime films are characterized by an absence of long-range, out-of-plane ordering in the film. Selected area electron diffraction measurements reveal the transition-regime films are well ordered on a local level, but not throughout the entire film. The structural disorder of the transition-regime films does not manifest itself in the transport properties, where a systematic change in resistivity, due primarily to variations in the Fe2+:Fe3+ cation ratio, occurs continuously throughout all three regimes. Large differences are observed, however, in the magnetic properties of the transition-regime films, which are reminiscent of magnetically disordered systems. We attribute this unique magnetically disordered state to magnetic frustration arising at the boundaries between the different locally ordered regions.

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