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Nanotechnology engineers atomic layer interfaces to produce new electronic materials

The nanotechnology of engineering atomic layer interfaces to produce desired properties—in this case, something called ‘improper ferroelectricity’—promises a technological revolution that may be comparable to the development of modern electronics. From a Stony Brook University news release via ScienceDaily:

In the 10 April issue of Nature [abstract], a new artificial material is revealed that marks the beginning of a revolution in the development of materials for electronic applications…

The new material, a superlattice, which has a multilayer structure composed of alternating atomically thin layers of two different oxides (PbTiO3 and SrTiO3), possesses properties radically different to either of the two materials by themselves. These new properties are a direct consequence of the artificially layered structure and are driven by interactions at the atomic scale at the interfaces between the layers.

“Besides the immediate applications that could be generated by this nanomaterial, this discovery opens a completely new field of investigation and the possibility of new functional materials based on a new concept: interface engineering on the atomic scale,” said [one of the lead researchers Dr. Matthew] Dawber.

Transition metal oxides are a class of materials that provoke great interest because of the great diversity of properties which they can present (they can be dielectrics, ferroelectrics, piezoelectrics, magnets or superconductors) and their ability to be integrated into numerous devices. The majority of these oxides possess a similar structure (referred to as ‘perovskite’) and, recently, researchers have developed the ability to build these kinds of materials up, atomic layer by atomic layer, much as a child plays with Lego bricks, hoping to produce new materials with exceptional properties.

—Jim

2 Responses to “Nanotechnology engineers atomic layer interfaces to produce new electronic materials”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    How is this comparable to the development of modern electronics? I don’t understand what the potential benefits are.

  2. MD Says:

    This is just one example of the new kinds of behavior currently being discovered at interfaces in transition metal oxides, many of which are under strong investigation for use in future electronic devices. The comparison between this field of investigation and the development of the semiconductor industry was actually made previously at the end of last year by Science magazine in their “Breakthroughs of the year”

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/318/5858/1844a#ru5 .

    The key here is that “interface engineering” provides an approach to developing materials with new properties that are markedly different from those of naturally occurring materials. These new materials could lead to new or improved devices that could replace current semiconductor based technology. In the present case the production of “improper ferroelectricity” by the construction of artificial interfaces provides a path to ferroelectricity in materials where it does not normally occur, which is appealing given the strong research effort currently being focused on multiferroic materials as the basis of a new type of computer memory.

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