Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
Catherine Foster, Argonne National Laboratory
(This release created jointly by NIU and Argonne National Laboratory)
Argonne, Ill. — Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Northern Illinois University have found that very thin materials can still retain an electric polarization, opening the potential for a wide range of tiny devices.
The researchers found that the ferroelectric phase – the phase that has the ability to hold a switchable electric polarization – is stable even for thicknesses as small as six atoms. That is the equivalent of 1.2 nanometers, one-billionth of a meter, or a size several hundred thousand times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Previous studies found that as the material became too thin, it quit being a ferroelectric. These results, however, suggest that small thicknesses do not pose a fundamental problem to building very small devices based on these materials.
The research is published in the June 11 issue of Science magazine.
An increasingly wide range of applications are based on ferroelectric thin films, including sensors, microelectromechanical systems, and memories.
Studies of ferroelectrics have become more intense in recent years, as devices – and the materials and thin films used to manufacture them – have become smaller, moving to the micro- and even the nano-scale, creating machines and building blocks of electronic devices smaller than the width of a human hair. The technological potential of these materials depends on maintaining a stable ferroelectric phase as devices continue to be miniaturized.
“The better we understand how these materials behave at the nano level, the more accurately we can predict how they will behave under all conditions,” said Carol Thompson, a
The researchers used the powerful X-ray beams from the Advanced Photon Source at
The authors are D.D. Fong, G.B. Stephenson, S.K. Streiffer, J.A. Eastman, Orlando Auciello and P.H. Fuoss of
The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory conducts basic and applied scientific research across a wide spectrum of disciplines, ranging from high-energy physics to climatology and biotechnology.