The ground-state properties of correlated electron systems can be extraordinarily sensitive to external stimuli, offering abundant platforms for functional materials. Using the multi-messenger combination of atomic force microscopy, cryogenic scanning near-field optical microscopy, magnetic force microscopy and ultrafast laser excitation, we demonstrate both ‘writing’ and ‘erasing’ of a metastable ferromagnetic metal phase in strained films of La2/3Ca1/3MnO3 (LCMO) with nanometre-resolved finesse. By tracking both optical conductivity and magnetism at the nanoscale, we reveal how strain-coupling underlies the dynamic growth, spontaneous nanotexture and first-order melting transition of this hidden photoinduced metal. Our first-principles calculations reveal that epitaxially engineered Jahn–Teller distortion can stabilize nearly degenerate antiferromagnetic insulator and ferromagnetic metal phases. We propose a Ginzburg–Landau description to rationalize the co-active interplay of strain, lattice distortions and magnetism nano-resolved here in strained LCMO, thus guiding future functional engineering of epitaxial oxides into the regime of phase-programmable materials.
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Multi-messenger nano-imaging capabilities were developed with support from Programmable Quantum Materials, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences (BES), under award no. DE-SC0019443. Research on the phase transition in correlated oxides was supported by the US DOE-BES award no. DE-SC-0012375. F.J. and W.W. acknowledge support from the NSF of China (grant no. 11974326), the National key R&D Program of China (grant no. 2016YFA0401003) and Hefei Science Center CAS.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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McLeod, A.S., Zhang, J., Gu, M.Q. et al. Multi-messenger nanoprobes of hidden magnetism in a strained manganite. Nat. Mater. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-019-0533-y