Origin of ferroelectric domain wall alignment with surface trenches in ultrathin films

26 Apr 2021  ·  Jack S. Baker, David R. Bowler ·

Engraving trenches on the surfaces of ultrathin ferroelectric (FE) films and superlattices promises control over the orientation and direction of FE domain walls (DWs). Through exploiting the phenomenon of DW-surface trench (ST) parallel alignment, systems where DWs are known for becoming electrical conductors could now become useful nanocircuits using only standard lithographical techniques. Despite this clear application, the microscopic mechanism responsible for the alignment phenomenon has remained elusive. Using ultrathin PbTiO$_3$ films as a model system, we explore this mechanism with large scale density functional theory simulations on as many as 5,136 atoms. Although we expect multiple contributing factors, we show that parallel DW-ST alignment can be well explained by this configuration giving rise to an arrangement of electric dipole moments which best restore polar continuity to the film. These moments preserve the polar texture of the pristine film, thus minimizing ST-induced depolarizing fields. Given the generality of this mechanism, we suggest that STs could be used to engineer other exotic polar textures in a variety of FE nanostructures as supported by the appearance of ST-induced polar cycloidal modulations in this letter. Our simulations also support experimental observations of ST-induced negative strains which have been suggested to play a role in the alignment mechanism.

PDF Abstract


Materials Science Computational Physics