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 tend to align themselves on larger scales, giving rise to the magnetization responsible for attraction and repulsion. Applying an external magnetic field can actually flip that magnetization, allowing programmers and engineers to manipulate the material.
Similarly, ferroelectric materials also have a molecular-scale dipole moment, but one characterized by a positive or negative electric charge rather than magnetic polarity. This polarization can also be manipulated, but flipping the charge requires an external electric field. This critical, tunable characteristic comes from an internal subatomic asymmetry and ordering phenomena, which was imaged in detail for the first time by the transmission electron microscopes used in this new study.
Current magnetic memory devices, such as the hard drives in most computers, "write" information into ferromagnetic materials by flipping that intrinsic dipole moment to correspond with the 1 or 0 of a computer's binary code. Those manipulated polarities then translate into everything from movies to web sites. The remarkable ability of these materials to retain information even when turned off - what's called nonvolatile storage - makes them an essential building block for our increasingly digital world.
In the emerging ferroelectric model of data storage, applying an electric field toggles between that material's two electric states, which translates into code. When scaled up similarly to ferromagnetics, that process can manifest on a computer as the writing or reading of digital information. And ferroelectric materials may trump their magnetic counterparts in ultimate efficacy.
"Ferroelectric materials can retain information on a much smaller scale and with higher density than ferromagnetics," Zhu said. "We're looking at moving from micrometers (millionths of a meter) down to nanometers (billionths of a meter). And that's what's really exciting, because we now know that on the nanoscale each particle can become its own bit of information. We knew very little about manipulating ferroelectric behavior in nanomaterials before this."
The trick to scaling up individual ferroelectric nanoparticles into useful devices is understanding just how tightly together they can be packed and ordered without compromising their distinct polarizations, which theory suggests should be extremely difficult to achieve. The electron holography experiments conducted at Brookhaven Lab demonstrated a method for determining those parameters under a range of conditions.
"Electron holography is an interferometry technique using coherent electron waves," said Brookhaven physicist Myung-Geun Han. "When electron waves pass through a ferroelectric sample, they are influenced by local electric fields, yielding a so-called phase-shift. The interference pattern between the electrons that pass through electric fields and those that don't creates what's called an electron hologram, which allows us to directly 'see' those local electric fields around individual ferroelectric nanoparticles."
Local electric fields emanate from ferroelectric nanoparticles, and these "fringing" fields are like the functional footprint of a particle's polarity. Consider the way a small magnet's effects can be felt even at a slight distance from its surface - a similar field exists in ferroelectric materials. When imaged by electron holography, the fringing field indicates the integrity of electrical polarity and the distance required between particles before they begin to interfere with each other.
The study revealed that the electric polarity could remain stable for individual ferroelectric materials, meaning that each nanoparticle can be used as a data bit. But because of their fringing fields, ferroelectrics need a little elbow room (on the order of five nanometers) to effectively operate. Otherwise, once scaled up for computer storage, they can't keep code intact and the information becomes garbled and corrupted. Understanding the atomic-scale properties revealed in this study will help guide implementation of these exotic particles.
"Properly used, ferroelectrics could ramp up memory density and store an unparalleled multiple terabytes of information on just one square inch of elec tronics," Han said. "This brings us closer to engineering such devices."
The ferroelectric nanoparticles tested, semiconducting germanium telluride and insulating barium titanate, were engineered at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and brought to Brookhaven Lab for the electron holography experiments. Additional experiments using x-ray diffraction were conducted at Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source.
The work featured collaborators from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of New Orleans, Central Michigan University, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Brookhaven National Lab. In addition to Zhu and Han, Brookhaven scientist Vyacheslav Volkov was also involved in the project. The research was funded by DOE's Office of Science.
DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit: http://science.energy.gov/.
One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York on behalf of Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization. Visit Brookhaven Lab's electronic newsroom for links, news archives, graphics, and more at http://www.bnl.gov/newsroom , or follow Brookhaven Lab on Twitter, http://twitter.com/BrookhavenLab .
Karen McNulty Walsh | EurekAlert!
Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer
20.10.2017 | Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Metallic nanoparticles will help to determine the percentage of volatile compounds
20.10.2017 | Lomonosov Moscow State University
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research