Atomic-Scale Insight into the Reversibility of Polar Order in Ultrathin Epitaxial Nb:SrTiO 3/BaTiO 3 Heterostructure and Its Implication to Resistive Switching
22 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2019 First Look: Accepted
Ferroelectric heterostructures with bi-stable state of polarization are appealing for data storage as well as tunable functionalities such as memristor behavior. While an increasing number of experimental and theoretical studies suggest that polarization persists in ultrathin epitaxial heterostructures approaching just a couple of unit cells, the switching of such polar order is much less well understood, and whether polarization can be reversed in ultrathin ferroelectric heterostructures remains to be answered. Here we fabricate high-quality 7-unit cell thick BaTiO3 (BTO) films on Nb-doped single crystalline SrTiO3 (NSTO) substrate, and demonstrate their apparent yet unambiguously false polarization reversal due to charge injection using comprehensive piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM) studies. The presence of weak polar order consistent with linear piezoelectricity is confirmed at the atomic scale by high resolution integrated differential phase contrast (IDPC) of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) as well as macroscopic second harmonic generation (SHG), while the lack of polarization reversal under the voltage applied is supported by density functional theory calculation showing the persistence of dead layer on the surface. Nevertheless, poling-induced electric conduction differing by two orders of magnitude is observed, demonstrating resistive switching in ferroelectric heterostructure in the absence of polarization reversal, even with weak polar order. Our finding has technological implications on emerging memristor applications with potentially more accessible states than bi-stable polarization modulated mechanism, and raises technical challenges to unambiguously demonstrate polarization switching in ultrathin films at their critical size limit.
Keywords: Ultrathin epitaxial ferroelectric semiconductor heterostructures, BaTiO3/Nb:SrTiO3, resistive switching, piezoresponse force microscopy, atomic-scale polar order of ferroelectricity
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