Electric-field-induced redistribution of polar nano-regions in a relaxor ferroelectric

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Relaxor ferroelectrics, with their strong dependence of polarization on the applied electric field, are of considerable technological importance. On a microscopic scale, however, there exists competition as well as coexistence between short-range and long-range polar order. The conventional picture is that the polar nano-regions (PNRs) that appear at high temperatures beyond the Curie transition, form nuclei for the field-induced long-range order at low temperatures. Here, we report high-energy X-ray diffuse-scattering measurements on the relaxor Pb(Zn1/3Nb2/3)O3 (PZN) to study the short-range polar order under an electric field applied along the [111] direction. In contrast to conventional expectations, the overall diffuse-scattering intensity is not suppressed. On the other hand, the field induces a marked change on the shape of the three-dimensional diffuse-scattering intensity pattern, corresponding to a redistribution of PNRs in real space. We show that these surprising results are consistent with a model in which the PNRs with [110]-type polarizations, orthogonal to that of the surrounding environment, are embedded and persist in the [111]-polarized ferroelectric order of the bulk.

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Figure 1: Schematic of PNRs in the real space and their contributions to the diffuse scattering in the reciprocal space.
Figure 2: X-ray-diffraction images from PZN taken by the CCD detector at room temperature (T=300 K).
Figure 3: Schematic of the three-dimensional diffuse-scattering distribution from PZN.
Figure 4: Hysteresis curve of diffuse-scattering intensities versus field strength.
Figure 5: Polarization–electric-field hysteresis from the PZN (111) single-crystal platelet.
Figure 6: Real part of the dielectric permittivity measured under different conditions.


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We would like to thank A. A. Bokov, P. M. Gehring, H. Hiraka, S. M. Shapiro, C. Stock and J. M. Tranquada for stimulating discussions. Financial support from the US Department of Energy under contract No. DE-AC02-98CH10886, US Office of Naval Research Grant No. N00014-99-1-0738 and the Natural Science and Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Guangyong Xu.

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