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Direct imaging of the electron liquid at oxide interfaces

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 30 May 2018

This article has been updated


The breaking of symmetry across an oxide heterostructure causes the electronic orbitals to be reconstructed at the interface into energy states that are different from their bulk counterparts1. The detailed nature of the orbital reconstruction critically affects the spatial confinement and the physical properties of the electrons occupying the interfacial orbitals2,3,4. Using an example of two-dimensional electron liquids forming at LaAlO3/SrTiO3 interfaces5,6 with different crystal symmetry, we show that the selective orbital occupation and spatial quantum confinement of electrons can be resolved with subnanometre resolution using inline electron holography. For the standard (001) interface, the charge density map obtained by inline electron holography shows that the two-dimensional electron liquid is confined to the interface with narrow spatial extension (~1.0 ± 0.3 nm in the half width). On the other hand, the two-dimensional electron liquid formed at the (111) interface shows a much broader spatial extension (~3.3 ± 0.3 nm) with the maximum density located ~2.4 nm away from the interface, in excellent agreement with density functional theory calculations.

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Fig. 1: Orientation-dependent energy subbands of Ti 3d orbitals and orbital-selective quantum confinement of 2DELs at LAO/STO interfaces.
Fig. 2: Conceptual representation of the electrostatic potential mapping by inline electron holography for 2DEL imaging.
Fig. 3: Internal electric fields measured by inline electron holography and models for electronic reconstruction of LAO/STO (001) and (111) heterostructures.
Fig. 4: Direct imaging of the 2DELs at oxide interfaces.

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Change history

  • 30 May 2018

    In the version of this Letter originally published, in two instances in Fig. 1 the layers in the cross-sectional view of the (001) interface were incorrectly labelled: in Fig. 1b SrO+ should have read SrO0; in Fig. 1c LaO+, AlO2, LaO+, TiO20, SrO+, TiO20 should have read LaO33–, Al3+, LaO33–, Ti4+, SrO34–, Ti4+. In Fig. 3c the upper-right equation read –σs = –e/2a2 but should have read –σs = e/2a2 and in Fig. 3f the lower-right equation read –σs = –e/2√3a2 but should have read σs = –e/2√3a2. These errors have now been corrected in the online version of the Letter.


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This work was supported by AFOSR Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD) under grant number FA2386-15-1-4046 (S.H.O. and C.B.E.) and AFOSR under grant number FA9550-15-1-0334 (C.B.E.). Research at SKKU was supported by the Creative Materials Discovery Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, the ICT and Future Planning (NRF-2015M3D1A1070672) (S.H.O.), an NRF grant funded by the Korean government (NRF-2015R1A2A2A01007904) (S.H.O.) and by the Ministryof Trade, Industry & Energy (MOTIE, Korea) under Industrial Technology Innovation Program (10080654) (S.H.O.). K.S. and S.-Y.C. acknowledge the support of the Fundamental Research of the Korean Institute of Materials Science (KIMS-PNK5260) and the Global Frontier Hybrid Interface Materials of the NRF funded by Korea Government (2013M3A6B1078872). Research at the University of Nebraska was supported by NSF MRSEC (grant no. DMR-420645). C.T.K. acknowledges support by the German Research Foundation (DFG grant KO 2911/12-1).

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Authors and Affiliations



S.H.O. and C.B.E. conceived the project and designed the experiments. K.S. prepared TEM samples by dimpling and Ar+ ion milling methods, performed TEM, STEM and inline electron holography works under the supervision of S.H.O at POSTECH. S.R. and H.L. prepared the LAO/STO samples and characterized the electrical properties. C.T.K. developed the inline holography reconstruction software and advised the data processing and interpretation of the inline electron holography results. S.-Y.C. contributed to the sample preparation, STEM and inline electron holography works at KIMS and developed the MATLAB-based software for measurement of the atomic displacements presented in Supplementary Fig. 5. J.K.L. and B.P. carried out supporting STEM HAADF imaging, STEM-EELS and STEM-EDS using STEM facilities at SKKU under the supervision of S.H.O. Y.-M.K. contributed to the STEM works at SKKU. T.R.P. and E.Y.T performed the DFT calculation. J.C.K. and H.Y.J. prepared TEM samples by using FIB, of which data are presented in Supplementary Information. M.S.R. supervised the electrical transport measurements. All authors analysed the data, discussed the results and contributed to the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Sang Ho Oh.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–23, Supplementary Tables 1–3, Supplementary Text 1–7.

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Song, K., Ryu, S., Lee, H. et al. Direct imaging of the electron liquid at oxide interfaces. Nature Nanotech 13, 198–203 (2018).

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