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Unprecedented subatomic details of exotic ferroelectric nanomaterials
Date:7/8/2012

UPTON, NY - As scientists learn to manipulate little-understood nanoscale materials, they are laying the foundation for a future of more compact, efficient, and innovative devices. In research to be published online July 8 in the journal Nature Materials, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and other collaborating institutions describe one such advance - a technique revealing unprecedented details about the atomic structure and behavior of exotic ferroelectric materials, which are uniquely equipped to store digital information. This research could guide the scaling up of these exciting materials and usher in a new generation of advanced electronics.

Brookhaven scientists used a technique called electron holography to capture images of the electric fields created by the materials' atomic displacement with picometer precision - that's the trillionths-of-a-meter scale crucial to understanding these promising nanoparticles. By applying different levels of electricity and adjusting the temperature of the samples, researchers demonstrated a method for identifying and describing the behavior and stability of ferroelectrics at the smallest-ever scale, with major implications for data storage.

"This kind of detail is just amazing - for the first time ever we can actually see the positions of atoms and link them to local ferroelectricity in nanoparticles," said Brookhaven physicist Yimei Zhu. "This kind of fundamental insight is not only a technical milestone, but it also opens up new engineering possibilities."

Ferroelectrics are perhaps best understood as the mysterious cousins of more familiar ferromagnetic materials, commonly seen in everything from refrigerator magnets to computer hard drives. As the name suggests, ferromagnetics have intrinsic magnetic dipole moments, meaning that they are always oriented toward either "north" or "south." These dipole moments
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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