Skew Andreev reflection in ferromagnet/superconductor junctions

Skew Andreev reflection in ferromagnet/superconductor junctions

Andreas Costa Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany    Alex Matos-Abiague Department of Physics and Astronomy, Wayne State University Detroit, Michigan 48201, USA    Jaroslav Fabian Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany
July 1, 2019

Andreev reflection (AR) in ferromagnet/superconductor junctions is an indispensable spectroscopic tool for measuring spin polarization. We study theoretically how the presence of a thin semiconducting interface in such junctions, inducing Rashba and Dresselhaus spin-orbit coupling, modifies AR processes. The interface gives rise to an effective momentum- and spin-dependent scattering potential, making the probability of AR strongly asymmetric with respect to the sign of the incident electrons’ transverse momenta. This skew AR creates spatial charge carrier imbalances and transverse Hall currents flow in the ferromagnet. We show that the effect is giant, as compared to the normal regime. We provide a quantitative analysis and a qualitative picture of this phenomenon, and finally show that skew AR also leads to a widely tunable transverse supercurrent response in the superconductor.


Due to the extraordinary properties occurring at their interfaces, ferromagnet/superconductor (F/S) heterostructures attract considerable interest Eschrig (2011); Linder and Robinson (2015); Gingrich et al. (2016). Such junctions might not only offer novel tools for controlling and measuring charge and spin currents, but might also bring new functionalities into spintronics devices.

Early efforts focused mainly on detecting spin-polarized quasiparticles in superconductors via spin transport experiments Tedrow and Meservey (1971, 1973); Meservey and Tedrow (1994), but current progress in the rapidly growing field of superconducting spintronics Linder and Robinson (2015) opened several promising perspectives, ranging from the observation of long spin lifetimes and giant magnetoresistance effects Yang et al. (2010) to the generation and successful manipulation of superconducting spin currents Wakamura et al. (2015); Beckmann (2016); Bergeret and Tokatly (2016); Espedal et al. (2017); Linder et al. (2017); Ouassou et al. (2017); Jeon et al. (2018); Montiel and Eschrig (2018). But the interplay of magnetism and superconductivity gets even more interesting when spin-orbit coupling (SOC) of the Rashba Bychkov and Rashba (1984) and/or Dresselhaus Dresselhaus (1955) type is present Žutić et al. (2004); Fabian et al. (2007). Prominent examples are spin-triplet pairing mechanisms Bergeret et al. (2001); Volkov et al. (2003); Keizer et al. (2006); Halterman et al. (2007); Eschrig and Löfwander (2008); Eschrig (2011); Sun and Shah (2015), leading to long-range superconducting proximity effects Duckheim and Brouwer (2011); Bergeret and Tokatly (2013, 2014); Jacobsen and Linder (2015), and Majorana states Nilsson et al. (2008); Duckheim and Brouwer (2011); Lee et al. (2012); Nadj-Perge et al. (2014); Dumitrescu et al. (2015); Pawlak et al. (2016); Ruby et al. (2017); Livanas et al. (2019), which are expected to form in superconducting proximity regions in the presence of SOC.

While SOC in bulk materials plays the key role for the appearance of intrinsic anomalous Hall effects Hall (1881); Wölfle and Muttalib (2006); Nagaosa (2006); Sinitsyn (2008); Nagaosa et al. (2010), recent theoretical studies Vedyayev et al. (2013a, b); Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2015); Dang et al. (2015); Huong Dang et al. (2018); Zhuravlev et al. (2018) predicted that interfacial SOC in F/normal metal (N) tunnel junctions can give rise to extrinsic tunneling anomalous Hall effects (TAHEs) in the N, owing to spin-polarized skew tunneling of electrons through the interface. The unique scaling of the associated TAHE conductances could make the effect to a fundamental tool for identifying and characterizing interfacial SOC, and thus providing the input for tailoring specific systems that could, e.g., host Majoranas. Although first experiments on granular junctions confirmed the theoretical predictions Rylkov et al. (2017), the extremely small TAHE conductances still remain one of the main obstacles. Sizable TAHE conductances require either interfacial barriers with large SOC, such as ferroelectric semiconductors (SCs) Zhuravlev et al. (2018), or completely different junction compositions.

In this paper, we consider F/SC/S junctions, in which the normal electrode is replaced by a superconductor. We demonstrate that, analogously to the tunneling picture in the normal-conducting case, skew reflection 111Conventional skew scattering actually refers to momentum- and spin-dependent scattering of spin-polarized charge carriers on magnetic impurities. To clearly differentiate between that and our reflection-based mechanism (which does not require the presence of impurities at all), we rely on the term skew reflection. of spin-polarized carriers at the barrier leads to TAHEs in the F. Due to the presence of a S electrode, we distinguish two skew reflection processes: skew specular reflection (SR) and skew Andreev reflection (AR). By formulating a qualitative physical picture accounting for both processes, we assert that skew SR and skew AR can act together in the S scenario, significantly enhancing the TAHE compared to all previously studied (normal) systems. Special attention must be paid to skew AR, which additionally transfers Cooper pairs across the barrier into the S. The electrons forming one Cooper pair are thereby also subject to the proposed skew reflection mechanism. We discuss that the result is a spontaneous transverse supercurrent response, initially deduced from a phenomenological Ginzburg-Landau treatment Mironov and Buzdin (2017), with widely tunable characteristics. Both findings, relatively giant TAHE conductances in the F and transverse supercurrents in the S, are distinct fingerprints to experimentally detect skew AR and characterize the interfacial SOC in the junction.

Theoretical model.

We consider a biased ballistic F/SC/S junction grown along the -direction, in which the two semi-infinite F and S regions are separated by an ultrathin SC barrier; see Fig. 1(a).

Figure 1: (a) Sketch of the considered F/SC/S junction, using principal crystallographic orientations, , , and . (b) Calculated (zero-bias) normal state reflection probabilities for incident spin up electrons (IN) at the SC interface, invoking AR and SR, as a function of  [dimensionless BTK-like barrier parameter for the effective scattering potential in Eq. (2)]; (see black dashed line for an example) is the usual (spin-independent) barrier strength. Owing to skew reflection, electrons with feel an effectively lowered (dashed violet line) and those with a raised (dashed orange line) barrier; the carrier imbalance (carrier densities are proportional to the size of the red and blue circles) generated via skew SR generates then the transverse Hall current  (voltage drop ). The skew reflection mechanism is schematically illustrated in the inset. (c) Same as in (b), but for the superconducting scenario, in which additionally skew AR plays a key role.

The barrier may, for instance, be composed of a thin layer of zincblende materials (e.g., GaAs or InAs) and introduces potential scattering, as well as strong interfacial Rashba Bychkov and Rashba (1984) and Dresselhaus Dresselhaus (1955) SOC Žutić et al. (2004); Fabian et al. (2007) due to the broken inversion symmetry.

The system can be modeled by means of the stationary Bogoljubov–de Gennes (BdG) Hamiltonian De Gennes (1989),


where represents the single-electron Hamiltonian and its holelike counterpart ( and indicate the two-by-two identity and the th Pauli matrix; is the vector of Pauli matrices). The F is described within the Stoner model with exchange energy and magnetization direction , where is measured with respect to the -axis. Following earlier studies de Jong and Beenakker (1995); Žutić and Valls (1999, 2000); Costa et al. (2017, 2018), the ultrathin SC layer is included into our model as a deltalike barrier with height and width ; its interfacial SOC enters the Hamiltonian Žutić et al. (2004); Fabian et al. (2007) , where the first part accounts for SOC of the Rashba type and the second part resembles linearized Dresselhaus SOC, both with the effective strengths and , respectively. Inside the S electrode, the S pairing potential, ( is the isotropic energy gap of the S), couples the electron and hole blocks of the BdG Hamiltonian. Note that writing in that way is a rigid approximation as it neglects proximity effects. While this approach simplifies the theoretical description, it yields reliable results for transport calculations Likharev (1979); Beenakker (1997). For the sake of simplicity and without loss of generality, we further assume the same Fermi levels, , as well as equal effective carrier masses, , in the F and S regions.

Assuming translational invariance parallel to the barrier, the solutions of the BdG equation, , can be factorized according to where () denotes the in-plane momentum (position) vector and are the BdG equation’s individual solutions for the reduced one-dimensional scattering problem along . The latter account for the different involved scattering processes at the SC interface: incoming electrons with spin  [ for spin up (down), which effectively indicates a spin parallel (antiparallel) to ] may either undergo AR or SR, or may be transmitted as electronlike or holelike quasiparticles into the S.

Physical picture—Skew AR (& SR).

Due to the presence of the interfacial SOC, electrons incident on the ultrathin SC are exposed to an effective scattering potential that incorporates besides the usual barrier strength (determined by the barrier’s height and width) also the in-plane momentum- and spin-dependent contribution of the SOC. To extract valuable qualitative trends from our model, we first focus on the simple situation in which only Rashba SOC is present (, ), the F’s magnetization is aligned along (), and . In this case, the effective scattering potential reads


where the first part represents the usual barrier strength and the second the SOC-dependent part. Assuming that SOC is weak and thus spin-flip scattering becomes negligible, only spin-conserving AR and SR are allowed inside the F, each with certain probabilities. The latter, extracted from an extended Blonder–Tinkham–Klapwijk (BTK) model Blonder et al. (1982) by substituting the effective scattering potential in Eq. (2) [see the Supplemental Material (SM) 222See the attached Supplemental Material, including Refs. Bychkov and Rashba (1984); Dresselhaus (1955); Žutić et al. (2004); Fabian et al. (2007); de Jong and Beenakker (1995); Žutić and Valls (1999, 2000); Costa et al. (2017, 2018); De Gennes (1989); Blonder et al. (1982); Högl et al. (2015); Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2015); Rylkov et al. (2017); Furusaki and Tsukada (1991); McMillan (1968); Moser et al. (2007); Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2009); Nitta et al. (1997); Koga et al. (2002); Chen et al. (2018); Giancoli (1995); Wang et al. (2006); *Wang2007; Zhuravlev et al. (2018), for more details. for details], are shown for incoming spin up electrons as a function of  in Figs. 1(b) and (c), once for the normal state and once for the superconducting junction.

In the first case, AR is completely forbidden, while the probability that the incident electron gets specularly reflected continuously increases with increasing effective scattering potential; note that there is also a finite transmission probability into the right normal state electrode (not shown). For a constant moderate barrier height and width (black dashed line) and nonzero Rashba SOC, Eq. (2) then suggests that incoming spin up electrons with positive  experience a significantly lower barrier (violet dashed line) and will thus undergo skew SR with a much lower probability than those with negative  (orange dashed line); the generated spatial charge imbalance in the F will be compensated by a transverse Hall current flow, , along . Strictly speaking, the situation gets exactly reversed for incident spin down electrons. Nevertheless, since there are more occupied spin up states, both channels cannot completely cancel each other and a finite Hall current remains.

If the junction becomes superconducting, additionally AR comes into play; although the AR probability generally decreases with an increase of , the crucial point is to note that AR involves holes. As a consequence, this skew AR will simultaneously also produce an excess of electrons at negative  and both the skew AR and SR act together to noticeably increase the transverse Hall current.

Another important observation relies on the reflection probabilities’ scaling at large . In both junction scenarios, the SR probabilities approach unity at ; in the superconducting case much faster than in the normal state. Consequently, the scattering potential is then mostly determined by the usual barrier parameters (height and width) and the spin-dependent contribution will only barely impact the effective scattering potential. Therefore, both skew reflection and the resulting Hall current are expected to be strongly damped in the presence of strong barriers, in superconducting even more than in normal-conducting junctions.

Figure 2: Calculated dependence of the zero-bias TAHE conductances, (a)  and (b) , normalized to Sharvin’s conductance, , on the in-plane magnetization angle , and for various indicated barrier strengths ; the Rashba SOC parameter is . The insets show similar normal state calculations, when the S is replaced by a N.

TAHE conductances.

Figure 3: Calculated dependence of the zero-bias TAHE conductances, (a)  and (b) , normalized to , on the in-plane magnetization angle  for the same parameters as in Fig. 2. The contributions stemming from SR, spin-flip SR (SR-Flip), and similarly those originating from ARs, are separately resolved.

As a clear fingerprint to experimentally detect skew AR, our qualitative picture suggests a significant enhancement of the superconducting junctions’ TAHE conductance when compared to the normal state regime. To evaluate the TAHE conductances along the transverse -direction (), we follow a generalized BTK approach Blonder et al. (1982), yielding the zero temperature TAHE conductances


where abbreviates the conductance quantum, stands for the cross-section area, represents the -component of the particles’ wave vector in the F with spin polarization , and is the Fermi wave vector. The reflection coefficients () correspond to SR (spin-flip SR), while () indicate AR (spin-flip AR); note that spin-flip AR means by definition that the reflected hole has the same spin as the incident electron. Unlike for the (longitudinal) tunneling conductance Blonder et al. (1982), SR and AR contribute to the Hall conductances with the same sign since the specularly reflected electron and the Andreev reflected hole move into opposite transverse directions; the different sign in the transverse velocities gets then compensated by the opposite charge of electrons and holes. As a consequence, the charge imbalances created by skew SR and AR can indeed give rise to individual Hall currents flowing along the same directions that finally lead to the sizable Hall response in the superconducting junction.

To elaborate on the TAHE conductances’ main features, we evaluate Eq. (3) for a Fe/GaAs/V like model junction; the spin polarization in Fe is (Fermi wave vector  Martínez et al. (2018)), while refers to V’s gap Martínez et al. (2018). The (material-specific) Dresselhaus SOC strength of GaAs can be approximated Fabian et al. (2007); Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2009) as with being the cubic Dresselhaus parameter for GaAs Fabian et al. (2007). The GaAs barrier’s height and width are captured by the dimensionless BTK-like barrier measure  (typically,  Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2009), so that represents a barrier with thickness ). Figure 2 shows the dependence of the normalized zero-bias 333Experimental measurements of the TAHE response in the F will simultaneously also detect a contribution stemming from conventional anomalous Hall effects. To separate both parts, one could exploit the TAHE contribution’s unique voltage dependence Note2 (). TAHE conductances, and , on the orientation of the in-plane magnetization in the F for various barrier strengths  and the Rashba SOC parameter , which lies well within the experimentally accessible values Moser et al. (2007); Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2009). To quantitatively compare the conductance amplitudes, the insets show analogous calculations in the normal-conducting state.

Our simulations reveal all the TAHE conductances’ important properties. First, we observe the sin- (cos-like) variation of () with respect to the F’s magnetization angle. Those dependencies follow immediately from symmetry considerations in the junction Note2 () and unambiguously reflect the system’s magnetoansiotropic transport characteristics Matos-Abiague and Fabian (2015). Second, we find that skew AR and SR can indeed act together in the superconducting junctions and lead to sizable TAHE conductances (& voltages Note2 ()) compared to normal junctions. Specifically, can be increased by more than one order of magnitude and still roughly by a factor of four if superconductivity is present. However, the full physical mechanism is more complicated than our simple picture in Fig. 1; there, we considered for simplicity one particular combination of in-plane momenta. To obtain the (total) balanced TAHE conductances, we need to average over all possible configurations [see Eq. (3)], which can—mostly depending on the barrier and Rashba SOC strengths—also reverse the effective direction of the Hall current as we observe for example in  when increasing from to  Note2 (). Finally, we can confirm the stated connection between the skew reflection mechanism and the TAHE conductances in the presence of strong tunneling barriers. As  increases, is mostly determined by the bare barrier strength itself, see Eq. (2), and the in-plane momentum- and spin-dependent SOC asymmetry, responsible for the Hall current generation, gets remarkably suppressed, especially in the superconducting regime. As a result, strong barriers significantly decrease the TAHE conductances.

To resolve SR and AR, Fig. 3 shows their spin-resolved conductance contributions. The spin-flip AR part is not separately shown as its amplitudes are up to two orders of magnitude smaller than those of (spin-conserving) AR. Interestingly, the total TAHE conductance is nearly fully dominated by (spin-conserving) SR and AR; both contributions are comparable in magnitude and have the same signs so that skew SR and AR indeed enhance each other and result in the predicted sizable TAHE conductances. Since spin-flip SR involves electrons with opposite spin, the effective barrier picture in Fig. 1 gets reversed and thus, also the related TAHE conductance contribution changes its sign. Nevertheless, this contribution is much smaller than those attributed to spin-conserving skew reflections so that it cannot modify the TAHE conductances’ qualitative features.

Supercurrent response.

Figure 4: Calculated dependence of the zero-bias transverse supercurrent response, ( in the inset), normalized according to , on the in-plane magnetization angle  for the same parameters as in Fig. 2.

AR is the crucial scattering process at metal/S interfaces; it transfers Cooper pairs into the S, converting normal dissipative into supercurrents, plays an important role for experimentally quantifying Fs’ spin polarizations Soulen et al. (1999), and is also essential for the sizable TAHE conductances in the F of our system. Particularly interesting are the transferred Cooper pairs, which are also exposed to the effective interfacial scattering potential and may thus trigger a response in terms of a spontaneously generated transverse supercurrent in the S Mironov and Buzdin (2017). Within our model, we evaluate the transverse supercurrent components (at zero external bias), , starting from a generalized Furusaki–Tsukada technique Furusaki and Tsukada (1991); see the SM Note2 () for details. For the considered parameters, we concluded that the main skew AR contribution to the TAHE conductance comes from the spin-conserving process. As the latter involves spin-singlet Cooper pairs with opposite transverse momenta and spins, one could think about a generalized skew reflection picture, similarly to Fig. 1, for the two individual electrons forming a singlet Cooper pair. As a consequence, the induced supercurrents’ qualitative features are expected to follow the same trends as those of the TAHE conductances in Fig. 2. Figure 4, presenting as a function of the magnetization angle , confirms this expectation: the supercurrent components’ dependence on  and their orientations (signs) reflect one-by-one the properties of the TAHE conductances in the F. Even the sign change we explored in  when changing  from  to  is (qualitatively) transferred into the supercurrent response . Nevertheless, there is one important difference to the TAHE conductance, concerning the currents’ magnitudes. The supercurrent response always results from two single electrons that tunnel into the S forming a Cooper pair; therefore, in order to generate sizable supercurrents, both electrons must simultaneously skew tunnel into the S (mediated by skew AR), which is less likely at strong barriers than skew tunneling of one unpaired electron. As a result, the maximal supercurrent amplitudes—up to several ’s for optimal configurations—mostly occur at smaller than the maximal TAHE conductance amplitudes in the F.

To conclude, we investigated the intriguing interplay of skew SR and AR at SC interfaces of superconducting tunnel junctions. We predict that the interplay of both skew reflection processes can constructively amplify their effects. Furthermore, also the Cooper pairs transferred into the S via AR cycles are subject to interfacial skew reflection. As a result, both sizable TAHE conductances in the F and characteristically modulating transverse supercurrents in the S are generated, opening new venues for experimental and theoretical studies.

This work was supported by the International Doctorate Program Topological Insulators of the Elite Network of Bavaria and DFG SFB Grant No. 1277, project B07 (A. C. and J. F.), as well as by DARPA Grant No. DP18AP900007 and US ONR Grant No. N000141712793 (A. M.-A.).


See pages 1 of SM.pdf See pages 2 of SM.pdf See pages 3 of SM.pdf See pages 4 of SM.pdf See pages 5 of SM.pdf See pages 6 of SM.pdf See pages 7 of SM.pdf See pages 8 of SM.pdf See pages 9 of SM.pdf See pages 10 of SM.pdf See pages 11 of SM.pdf See pages 12 of SM.pdf See pages 13 of SM.pdf See pages 14 of SM.pdf See pages 15 of SM.pdf

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