The observation in a ferroelectric material of “polar vortices” that appear to be the electrical cousins of magnetic skyrmions holds intriguing possibilities for advanced electronic devices. These polar vortices, which were theoretically predicted more than a decade ago, could also “rewrite our basic understanding of ferroelectrics” according to the researchers who observed them.
A team of Molecular Foundry users and staff have recorded the first ever observations of rotating topologies of electrical polarization that are similar to the discrete swirls of magnetism known as “skyrmions.” If these smoothly rotating vortex/anti-vortex topologies prove to be electrical skyrmions, they could find potential applications in ultracompact data storage and processing, and could also lead to the production of new states of matter and associated phenomena in ferroic materials.
A combination of scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) and X-ray diffraction studies were used to observe and characterize the polar vortices. The STEM work was carried out at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, on TEAM 0.5, one of the world’s most powerful transmission electron microscopes.