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Ferroelectric research milestone could pave way for next gen electronics

US Researchers have developed a technique to reveal unprecedented detail about the atomic structure and behaviour of ferroelectric materials, which are uniquely equipped to store digital information. They claim the research could help usher in a new generation of advanced electronics.

The scientists, from Brookhaven National Laboratory, used a technique called electron holography to capture images of the electric fields created by the materials' atomic displacement. By applying different levels of electricity and adjusting the temperature of the samples, they demonstrated a method for identifying and describing the behaviour and stability of ferroelectrics at the smallest ever scale.

"This kind of detail is just amazing — for the first time ever we can actually see the positions of atoms and link them to local ferroelectricity in nanoparticles," commented Brookhaven physicist Yimei Zhu. "This kind of fundamental insight is not only a technical milestone, but it also opens up new engineering possibilities."

Current magnetic memory devices write information into ferromagnetic materials by flipping the intrinsic dipole moment to correspond with the 1 or 0 of a computer's binary code. In the ferroelectric model of data storage, applying an electric field toggles between that material's two electric states, which translates into code. When scaled up similarly to ferromagnetics, that process can manifest on a computer as the writing or reading of digital information.

"Ferroelectric materials can retain information on a much smaller scale and with higher density than ferromagnetics," Zhu added. "We're looking at moving from micrometres down to nanometres. And that's what's really exciting, because we now know that on the nanoscale each particle can become its own bit of information."

The study revealed that the electric polarity could remain stable for individual ferroelectric materials, meaning that each nanoparticle can be used as a data bit. But because of their fringing fields, ferroelectrics need five nanometres space to effectively operate. Otherwise, once scaled up for computer storage, they can't keep code intact and the information becomes garbled and corrupted.

The team says that understanding the atomic scale properties revealed in this study will help guide the implementation of these particles.

"Properly used, ferroelectrics could ramp up memory density and store an unparalleled multiple terabytes of information on just one square inch of electronics," concluded Brookhaven physicist Myung-Geun Han. "This brings us closer to engineering such devices."

Author
Simon Fogg

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