On the Road to Mottronics: Researchers at the Advanced Light Source Find Key to Controlling the
"Mottronics" is a term seemingly destined to become familiar to aficionados of electronic gadgets. Named for the Nobel laureateNevill
"Our work shows how an epitaxial mismatch in the lattice can be used as a knot to tune the energetic landscape of Mott materials and thereby control conductor/insulator transitions," says
Nickel-based rare-earth perovskite oxides, or "nickelates," are considered to be an ideal model for the study of Mott materials because they display strongly correlated electron systems that give rise to unique electronic and magnetic properties. Liu and his co-authors studied thin films of neodymium nickel oxide using ALS beamline 8.0.1, a high flux undulator beamline that produces x-ray beams optimized for the study of nanoscale materials and strongly correlated physics.
"ALS beamline 8.0.1 provides the high photon flux and energy range that are critical when dealing with nanoscale samples," Liu says. "The state-of-the-art Resonant X-ray Scattering endstation has a high-speed, high-sensitivity CCD camera that makes it feasible to find and track diffraction peaks off a thin film that was only six nanometers thick."
The transition between the conducting and insulating phases in nickelates is determined by various microscopic interactions, some of which favor the conducting phase, some which favor the insulating phase. The energetic balance of these interactions determines how easily electricity is conducted by electrons moving between the nickel and oxygen ions. By applying enough epitaxial strain to alter the space between these ions, Liu and his colleagues were able to tune this energetic balance and control the conducting/insulating transition. In addition, theyfound strain could also be used to control the nickelate's magnetic properties, again by exploiting the lattice mismatch.
"Magnetism is another hallmark of Mott materials that often goes hand-in-hand with the insulating state and is used to distinguish Mott insulators," says Liu. "The challenge is that most Mott insulators, including nickelates, are antiferromagnets that macroscopically behave as non-magnetic materials. "At ALS beamline 8.0.1, we were able to directly track the magnetic evolution of our thin films while tuning the metal-to-insulator transition. Our findings give us a better understanding of the physics behind the magnetic properties of these nickelate films and point to potential applications for this magnetism in novel Mottronics devices."
This research was primarily supported the U.S.
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