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Unprecedented look at oxide interfaces reveals unexpected structures on atomic scale
Date:8/4/2010

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., August 4, 2010 -- Thin layers of oxide materials and their interfaces have been observed in atomic resolution during growth for the first time by researchers at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, providing new insight into the complicated link between their structure and properties.

"Imagine you suddenly had the ability to see in color, or in 3-D," said the CNMS's Sergei Kalinin. "That is how close we have been able to look at these very small interfaces."

The paper was published online in ACS Nano with ORNL's Junsoo Shin as lead author.

A component of magnetoelectronics and spintronics, oxide interfaces have the potential to replace silicon-based microelectronic devices and improve the power and memory retention of other electronic technologies.

However, oxide interfaces are difficult to analyze at the atomic scale because once the oxides are removed from their growth chamber they become contaminated. To circumvent this problem, ORNL researchers led by Art Baddorf built a unique system that allows scanning tunneling microscopy and low energy electron diffraction to capture images of the top layer of the oxide while in situ, or still in the vacuum chamber where the materials were grown by powerful laser pulses.

Many studies of similar oxide interfaces utilize a look from the side, typically achieved by aberration corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM). The ORNL team has used these cross-sectional images to map the oxide organization.

However, like a sandwich, oxide interfaces may be more than what they appear from the side. In order to observe the interactive layer of the top and bottom oxide, the group has used scanning tunneling microscopy to get an atomically resolved view of the surface of the oxide, and observed its evolution during the growth of a second oxide film on top.

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Contact: Katie Freeman
freemanke@ornl.gov
865-574-4160
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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