The exchange stiffness, Aex, is one of the key parameters controlling magnetization reversal in magnetic materials but is very difficult to measure, especially in thin films. We developed a new technique for measuring the exchange stiffness of a magnetic material based on the formation of a spin spiral within two antiferromagnetically coupled ferromagnetic films . Using this method, I was able to measure the exchange stiffness of thin film Co alloyed with Cr, Fe, Ni, Pd, Pt and Ru. The results of this work showed that the rate at which a substituent element reduces the exchange stiffness is not directly related to its effect on the magnetization of the alloy. These measured trends have been understood by combining measurements of element specific magnetic moments obtained using X-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) and material specific modeling based on density functional theory (DFT) within the local density approximation (LDA). The experimental results also hint at significant reduction of the exchange stiffness at the interface that can account for the difference between our results and those obtained on bulk materials.
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