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May 2017

Researchers Help Thin-Film Ferroelectrics Go Extreme


Scientists working at the Molecular Foundry have greatly expanded the range of functional temperatures for ferroelectrics, a key material used in a variety of everyday applications, by creating the first-ever polarization gradient in a thin film.

The achievement paves the way for developing devices capable of supporting wireless communications in extreme environments, from inside nuclear reactors to Earth’s polar regions.

Ferroelectric materials are prized for having a spontaneous polarization that is reversible by an applied electric field and for the ability to produce electric charges in response to physical pressure. They can function as capacitors, transducers, and oscillators, and they can be found in applications such as transit cards, ultrasound imaging, and push-button ignition systems.

Berkeley Lab scientists created a strain and chemical gradient in a 150-nanometer-thin film of barium strontium titanate, a widely used ferroelectric material. The researchers were able to directly measure the tiny atomic displacements in the material using cutting-edge advanced microscopy at the Molecular Foundry, finding gradients in the polarization. The polarization varied from 0 to 35 microcoulombs per centimeter squared across the thickness of the thin-film material.

Read the full press release.