Finite size effect on the structural and magnetic properties of MnAs/GaAs(001) patterned microstructures thin films
MnAs epitaxial thin films on GaAs(001) single crystalline substrates crystallize at room temperature (RT) in a mixture of two crystalline phases with distinct magnetic properties, organized as stripes along the MnAs  direction. This particular morphology is driven by anisotropic epitaxial strain. We elucidate here the physical mechanisms at the origin of size reduction effect on the MnAs crystalline phase transition. We investigated the structural and magnetic changes in MnAs patterned microstructures (confined geometry) when the lateral dimension is reduced to values close to the periodicity and width of the stripes observed in continuous films. The effects of the microstructure’s lateral size, shape and orientation (with respect to the MnAs  direction) were characterized by local probe synchrotron X-ray diffraction (μ-XRD) using a focused X-ray beam, X-ray Magnetic Circular Dichroïsm - Photo Emission Electron Microscopy (XMCD-PEEM) and Low Energy Electron Microscopy (LEEM). Changes in the transition temperature and the crystalline phase distribution inside the microstructures are evidenced and quantitatively measured. The effect of finite size and strain relaxation on the magnetic domain structure is also discussed. Counter-intuitively, we demonstrate here that below a critical microstructure size, bulk MnAs structural and magnetic properties are restored. To support our observations we developed, tested and validated a model based on the size-dependence of the elastic energy and strain relaxation to explain this phase re-distribution in laterally confined geometry.