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Enhanced flexoelectric-like response in oxide semiconductors


Flexoelectricity is a property of all dielectric materials whereby they polarize in response to deformation gradients such as those produced by bending1,2,3,4,5. Although it is generally thought of as a property of dielectric insulators, insulation is not a formal requirement: in principle, semiconductors can also redistribute their free charge in response to strain gradients. Here we show that bending a semiconductor not only generates a flexoelectric-like response, but that this response can in fact be much larger than in insulators. By doping single crystals of wide-bandgap oxides to increase their conductivity, their effective flexoelectric coefficient was increased by orders of magnitude. This large response can be explained by a barrier-layer mechanism that remains important even at the macroscale, where conventional (insulator) flexoelectricity otherwise tends to be small. Our results open up the possibility of using semiconductors as active ingredients in electromechanical transducer applications.

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Figure 1: Barrier layer model.
Figure 2: Capacitance of BTO.
Figure 3: Effective flexoelectricity of BTO.
Figure 4: Effective flexoelectricity of TiO2 and 0.05%Nb-doped TiO2.


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This research was funded by an ERC Starting grant from the EU (ERC 308023) and by a national research grant (FIS2013-48668-C2-1-P) from the Spanish MINECO. All research in ICN2 is supported by the Severo Ochoa Excellence Programme (SEV-2013-0295). F.V.-S. thanks MICITT and CONICIT for support during his PhD. We thank D. Torres for the illustration in Fig. 1. Belarre for help with sample polishing and B. Ballesteros for help with the EELS measurements shown in Methods.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.N. and G.C. conceived the idea and analysed the results. J.N. and F.V.-S. performed the experiments. G.C. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gustau Catalan.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks E. Eliseev, N. Mathur, D. Vanderbilt and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Effective flexoelectric coefficients of semiconducting crystals of Nb-doped TiO2 (0.05%Nb by weight) as a function of sample thickness.

The red line is a linear fit to the data.

Extended Data Figure 2 EELS analysis.

Top, EELS spectra of a cross-sectional sample of BaTiO3, measured in a transmission electron microscope. There is no monotonic trend as a function of distance to the surface, so no indication that the surface (at least to a depth of 1.4 μm) is any more (or less) oxidized than the bulk. A comparison with the shape of the EELS spectra of SrTiO3−δ (bottom-left; image reproduced from ref. 34, Macmillan Publishers Limited) or BaTiO3−δ (bottom-right; reprinted from ref. 35, with the permission of AIP Publishing) is consistent with δ ≤ 0.14 for our crystals.

Extended Data Figure 3 Consecutive measurements of the flexoelectric coefficient for semiconducting BaTiO3−δ.

Extended Data Figure 4 Conductivity of BaTiO3−δ.

Total conductivity σ = σelectron + σion measured across the capacitor structure.

Extended Data Figure 5 Flexoelectricity of undoped TiO2 and Nb-doped TiO2.

The conducting Nb-doped sample (right) displays an effective flexoelectricity that is >2,000 times larger than the insulating sample (left). Note that the units are nC m−1 and μC m−1 for TiO2 and Nb-TiO2 respectively.

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Narvaez, J., Vasquez-Sancho, F. & Catalan, G. Enhanced flexoelectric-like response in oxide semiconductors. Nature 538, 219–221 (2016).

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