Antiferromagnets have recently emerged as attractive platforms for spintronics applications, offering fundamentally new functionalities compared with their ferromagnetic counterparts. Whereas nanoscale thin-film materials are key to the development of future antiferromagnetic spintronic technologies, existing experimental tools tend to suffer from low resolution or expensive and complex equipment requirements. We offer a simple, high-resolution alternative by addressing the ubiquitous surface magnetization of magnetoelectric antiferromagnets in a granular thin-film sample on the nanoscale using single-spin magnetometry in combination with spin-sensitive transport experiments. Specifically, we quantitatively image the evolution of individual nanoscale antiferromagnetic domains in 200 nm thin films of Cr2O3 in real space and across the paramagnet-to-antiferromagnet phase transition, finding an average domain size of 230 nm, several times larger than the average grain size in the film. These experiments allow us to discern key properties of the Cr2O3 thin film, including the boundary magnetic moment density, the variation of critical temperature throughout the film, the mechanism of domain formation, and the strength of exchange coupling between individual grains comprising the film. Our work offers novel insights into the magnetic ordering mechanism of Cr2O3 and firmly establishes single-spin magnetometry as a versatile and widely applicable tool for addressing antiferromagnetic thin films on the nanoscale.
Keywords: Antiferromagnets; Hall magnetometry; intergranular exchange energy; magnetoelectrics; nitrogen vacancy magnetometry; surface magnetization.