Distribution of Co ions and its effect on magnetic properties of ZnO:Co in the presence of native point defects, oxygen vacancy, and interstitial hydrogen, have been investigated using first-principles density functional calculations. The study provides a fundamental theoretical understanding on the correlation between magnetism and the distribution of magnetic ions and the native point defects in the semiconducting host. Results show that Co ions have a strong tendency toward aggregation via oxygen within ab plane in the presence of point defects. The room temperature ferromagnetism observed experimentally in ZnO:Co is mainly dominated by the interstitial hydrogen rather than oxygen vacancy.

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