The properties of half-metallic manganite thin films depend on the composition and structure in the atomic scale, and consequently, their potential functional behavior can only be based on fine structure characterization. By combining advanced transmission electron microscopy, electron energy loss spectroscopy, density functional theory calculations, and multislice image simulations, we obtained evidence of a 7 nm-thick interface layer in La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 (LSMO) thin films, compatible with the formation of well-known dead layers in manganites, with an elongated out-of-plane lattice parameter and structural and electronic properties well distinguished from the bulk of the film. We observed, for the first time, a structural shift of Mn ions coupled with oxygen vacancies and a reduced Mn valence state within such layer. Understanding the correlation between oxygen vacancies, the Mn oxidation state, and Mn-ion displacements is a prerequisite to engineer the magnetotransport properties of LSMO thin films.
Quantum materials are central for the development of novel functional systems that are often based on interface specific phenomena. Fabricating controlled interfaces between quantum materials requires adopting a flexible growth technique capable to synthesize different materials within a single-run deposition process with high control of structure, stoichiometry, and termination. Among the various available thin film growth technologies, pulsed laser deposition (PLD) allows controlling the growth of diverse materials at the level of single atomic layers. In PLD the atomic species are supplied through an ablation process of a stoichiometric target either in form of polycrystalline powders or of a single crystal. No carrier gases are needed in the deposition process. The ablation process is compatible with a wide range of background pressure. We present results of thin-film growth by PLD obtained by using an Nd:YAG infrared pulsed laser source operating at its first harmonics. With respect to the traditional PLD systems—based on excimer KrF UV-lasers—optimal conditions for the growth of thin films and heterostructures are reached at large target-to-substrate distance. Merits and limitations of this approach for growing oxide and non-oxide thin films are discussed. The merits of an Nd:YAG laser to grow very high-quality thin films suggest the possibility of implementing compact in-situ setups e.g. integrated with analytical instrumentation under ultra-high vacuum conditions.