Emergent chirality in a polar meron to skyrmion phase transition

12 Jan 2021  ·  Yu-Tsun Shao, Sujit Das, Zijian Hong, Ruijuan Xu, Swathi Chandrika, Fernando Gómez-Ortiz, Pablo García-Fernández, Long-Qing Chen, Harold Y. Hwang, Javier Junquera, Lane W. Martin, Ramamoorthy Ramesh, David A. Muller ·

Polar skyrmions are predicted to emerge from the interplay of elastic, electrostatic and gradient energies, in contrast to the key role of the anti-symmetric Dzyalozhinskii-Moriya interaction in magnetic skyrmions. With the discovery of topologically-stable polar skyrmions, it is of both fundamental and practical interest to understand the microscopic nature and the possibility of temperature- and strain-driven phase transitions in ensembles of such polar skyrmions. Here, we explore the emergence of a two-dimensional, tetratic lattice of merons (with topological charge of -1/2) from a skyrmion state (topological charge of -1) upon varying the temperature and elastic boundary conditions in [(PbTiO3)16/(SrTiO3)16]8 lifted-off membranes. This topological phase transition is accompanied by a change in chirality, from net-handedness (in skyrmionic phase) to zero-net chirality (in meronic phase). To map these changes microscopically required developing new imaging methods. We show how scanning convergent beam electron diffraction provides a robust measure of the local polarization simultaneously with the strain state at sub-nm resolution, while also directly mapping the chirality of each skyrmion. Using this, we demonstrate strain as a crucial order parameter to drive isotropic-to-anisotropic structural transitions of chiral polar skyrmions to non-chiral merons, validated with X-ray reciprocal space mapping and theoretical phase-field simulations. These results revealed by our new measurement methods provide the first illustration of systematic control of rich variety of topological dipole textures by altering the mechanical boundary conditions, which may offer a promising way to control their functionalities in ferroelectric nanodevices using the local and spatial distribution of chirality and order.

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Mesoscale and Nanoscale Physics Materials Science