Letter | Published:

Electric-field control of tri-state phase transformation with a selective dual-ion switch

Nature volume 546, pages 124128 (01 June 2017) | Download Citation


Materials can be transformed from one crystalline phase to another by using an electric field to control ion transfer, in a process that can be harnessed in applications such as batteries1, smart windows2 and fuel cells3. Increasing the number of transferrable ion species and of accessible crystalline phases could in principle greatly enrich material functionality. However, studies have so far focused mainly on the evolution and control of single ionic species (for example, oxygen, hydrogen or lithium ions4,5,6,7,8,9,10). Here we describe the reversible and non-volatile electric-field control of dual-ion (oxygen and hydrogen) phase transformations, with associated electrochromic2 and magnetoelectric11 effects. We show that controlling the insertion and extraction of oxygen and hydrogen ions independently of each other can direct reversible phase transformations among three different material phases: the perovskite SrCoO3−δ (ref. 12), the brownmillerite SrCoO2.5 (ref. 13), and a hitherto-unexplored phase, HSrCoO2.5. By analysing the distinct optical absorption properties of these phases, we demonstrate selective manipulation of spectral transparency in the visible-light and infrared regions, revealing a dual-band electrochromic effect that could see application in smart windows2,9. Moreover, the starkly different magnetic and electric properties of the three phases—HSrCoO2.5 is a weakly ferromagnetic insulator, SrCoO3−δ is a ferromagnetic metal12, and SrCoO2.5 is an antiferromagnetic insulator13—enable an unusual form of magnetoelectric coupling, allowing electric-field control of three different magnetic ground states. These findings open up opportunities for the electric-field control of multistate phase transformations with rich functionalities.

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This study was financially supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (grants 2015CB921700, 2016YFA0301004 and 2015CB921002); the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grants 11274194, 51561145005, 51332001 and 11334006); the Initiative Research Projects of Tsinghua University (grant 20141081116); and the Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Future Chip (ICFC). L.G. acknowledges support from the National Program on Key Basic Research Project (2014CB921002) and the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB07030200) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (grants 51522212, 51421002 and 51672307). The Advanced Light Source is supported by the US Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

Author information


  1. State Key Laboratory of Low Dimensional Quantum Physics and Department of Physics, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Nianpeng Lu
    • , Pengfei Zhang
    • , Hao-Bo Li
    • , Yujia Wang
    • , Jingwen Guo
    • , Ding Zhang
    • , Zheng Duan
    • , Zhuolu Li
    • , Meng Wang
    • , Shuzhen Yang
    • , Mingzhe Yan
    • , Shuyun Zhou
    • , Jian Wu
    •  & Pu Yu
  2. Beijing National Laboratory for Condensed Matter Physics, Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing 100190, China

    • Qinghua Zhang
    •  & Lin Gu
  3. State Key Laboratory of New Ceramics and Fine Processing, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Qinghua Zhang
    •  & Ce-Wen Nan
  4. Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Ruimin Qiao
    • , Elke Arenholz
    •  & Wanli Yang
  5. Department of Physics, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

    • Qing He
  6. Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter, Beijing 100084, China

    • Shuyun Zhou
    • , Lin Gu
    • , Jian Wu
    •  & Pu Yu
  7. RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science (CEMS), Wako 351-198, Japan

    • Yoshinori Tokura
    •  & Pu Yu


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P.Y. conceived the project and designed the experiments. N.L., Y.W., Z.D. and Z.L. fabricated the thin films. N.L. performed the ILG, X-ray diffraction, magnetic and optical measurements, with H.-B.L. Y.W., S.Y. and M.W. P.Z. performed the theoretical analysis and calculations, under the supervision of J.W. Q.Z. performed the scanning transmission electron microscopy measurements, under the supervision of L.G. and C.-W.N. R.Q., J.G. and M.Y. performed the room-temperature soft X-ray absorption measurements, under the supervision of S.Z. and W.Y. Q.H., J.G. and E.A. performed the low-temperature soft X-ray magnetic circular dichroism measurements. D.Z., H.-B.L. and N.L. performed the electrical transport measurements. Y.T. discussed the results. N.L. and P.Y. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jian Wu or Pu Yu.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks D. Milliron, S. Ramanathan and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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