OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 18, 2013Unexpected behavior in ferroelectric materials explored by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory supports a new approach to information storage and processing.
Ferroelectric materials are known for their ability to spontaneously switch polarization when an electric field is applied. Using a scanning probe microscope, the ORNL-led team took advantage of this property to draw areas of switched polarization called domains on the surface of a ferroelectric material. To the researchers' surprise, when written in dense arrays, the domains began forming complex and unpredictable patterns on the material's surface.
"When we reduced the distance between domains, we started to see things that should have been completely impossible," said ORNL's Anton Ievlev, the first author on the paper published in Nature Physics. "All of a sudden, when we tried to draw a domain, it wouldn't form, or it would form in an alternating pattern like a checkerboard. At first glance, it didn't make any sense. We thought that when a domain forms, it forms. It shouldn't be dependent on surrounding domains."
After studying patterns of domain formation under varying conditions, the researchers realized the complex behavior could be explained through chaos theory. One domain would suppress the creation of a second domain nearby but facilitate the formation of one farther away -- a precondition of chaotic behavior, says ORNL's Sergei Kalinin, who led the study.
"Chaotic behavior is generally realized in time, not in space," he said. "An example is a dripping faucet: sometimes the droplets fall in a regular pattern, sometimes not, but it is a time-dependent process. To see chaotic behavior realized in space, as in our experiment, is highly unusual."
Collaborator Yuriy Pershin of the University of South Carolina explains that the team's system possesses key characteristics neede
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DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory