OAK RIDGE, Tenn., April 25, 2011 - Novel properties of ferroelectric materials discovered at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are moving scientists one step closer to realizing a new paradigm of electronic memory storage.
A new study led by ORNL's Peter Maksymovych and published in the American Chemical Society's Nano Letters revealed that contrary to previous assumptions, domain walls in ferroelectric materials act as dynamic conductors instead of static ones.
Domain walls, the separation zones only a few atoms wide between opposing states of polarization in ferroelectric materials, are known to be conducting, but the origin of the conductivity has remained unclear.
"Our measurements identified that subtle and microscopically reversible distortions or kinks in the domain wall are at the heart of the dynamic conductivity," Maksymovych said. "The domain wall in its equilibrium state is not a true conductor like a rigid piece of copper wire. When you start to distort it by applying an electric field, it becomes a much better conductor."
Ferroelectrics, a unique class of materials that respond to the application of an electric field by microscopically switching their polarization, are already used in applications including sonar, medical imaging, fuel injectors and many types of sensors.
Now, researchers want to push the boundaries of ferroelectrics by making use of the materials' properties in areas such as memory storage and nanoelectronics. Gaining a detailed understanding of electrical conductance in domain walls is seen as a crucial step toward these next generation applications.
"This study shows for the first time that the dynamics of these defects - the domain walls - are a much richer source of memory functionality," Maksymovych said. "It turns out you can dial in the level of the conductivity in the domain wall, making it a tunable, metastable, dynamic memory eleme
|Contact: Morgan McCorkle|
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory