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.