Atomic-scale control of competing electronic phases in ultrathin LaNiO3


In an effort to scale down electronic devices to atomic dimensions1, the use of transition-metal oxides may provide advantages over conventional semiconductors. Their high carrier densities and short electronic length scales are desirable for miniaturization2, while strong interactions that mediate exotic phase diagrams3 open new avenues for engineering emergent properties4,5. Nevertheless, understanding how their correlated electronic states can be manipulated at the nanoscale remains challenging. Here, we use angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy to uncover an abrupt destruction of Fermi liquid-like quasiparticles in the correlated metal LaNiO3 when confined to a critical film thickness of two unit cells. This is accompanied by the onset of an insulating phase as measured by electrical transport. We show how this is driven by an instability to an incipient order of the underlying quantum many-body system, demonstrating the power of artificial confinement to harness control over competing phases in complex oxides with atomic-scale precision.

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Figure 1: Giant quasiparticle mass renormalization in LaNiO3.
Figure 2: Thickness-driven MIT.
Figure 3: Loss of quasiparticle integrity across the MIT.
Figure 4: Atomic-scale control of competing quantum phases in ultrathin LaNiO3.


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This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research (grant no. N00014-12-1-0791), the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the MRSEC programme (Cornell Center for Materials Research, DMR-1120296) and was performed in part at the Cornell NanoScale Facility, a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (grant ECCS-0335765). X. He and I. Božović were supported by the US Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division. H.I. Wei acknowledges support from the NSF IGERT programme (DGE-0654193). The authors thank A. Georges, C.A. Marianetti, A.J. Millis, J.A. Mundy, T.W. Noh, and C.J. Palmstrøm for discussions.

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The samples were grown by P.D.C.K. and C.A. and characterized by P.D.C.K., H.I.W. and Y.F.N. ARPES measurements were performed by P.D.C.K., H.I.W., Y.F.N. and M.U. and analysed by P.D.C.K. S.Z. grew the LaAlO3 buffer layers used for some samples. X.H. and I.B. performed the high-pressure oxygen annealing experiments and corresponding sample characterization. P.D.C.K. and K.M.S. wrote the paper, with input and discussion from all co-authors. P.D.C.K., D.G.S. and K.M.S. devised the project and were responsible for its overall planning and direction.

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Correspondence to K. M. Shen.

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King, P., Wei, H., Nie, Y. et al. Atomic-scale control of competing electronic phases in ultrathin LaNiO3. Nature Nanotech 9, 443–447 (2014).

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