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Selective control of multiple ferroelectric switching pathways using a trailing flexoelectric field

Nature Nanotechnologyvolume 13pages366370 (2018) | Download Citation


Flexoelectricity is an electromechanical coupling between electrical polarization and a strain gradient1 that enables mechanical manipulation of polarization without applying an electrical bias2,3. Recently, flexoelectricity was directly demonstrated by mechanically switching the out-of-plane polarization of a uniaxial system with a scanning probe microscope tip3,4. However, the successful application of flexoelectricity in low-symmetry multiaxial ferroelectrics and therefore active manipulation of multiple domains via flexoelectricity have not yet been achieved. Here, we demonstrate that the symmetry-breaking flexoelectricity offers a powerful route for the selective control of multiple domain switching pathways in multiaxial ferroelectric materials. Specifically, we use a trailing flexoelectric field that is created by the motion of a mechanically loaded scanning probe microscope tip. By controlling the SPM scan direction, we can deterministically select either stable 71° ferroelastic switching or 180° ferroelectric switching in a multiferroic magnetoelectric BiFeO3 thin film. Phase-field simulations reveal that the amplified in-plane trailing flexoelectric field is essential for this domain engineering. Moreover, we show that mechanically switched domains have a good retention property. This work opens a new avenue for the deterministic selection of nanoscale ferroelectric domains in low-symmetry materials for non-volatile magnetoelectric devices and multilevel data storage.

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This work was supported by the Research Center programme of the IBS in Korea (grant no. IBS-R009-D1) and by Sookmyung Women’s University (grant no. 1-1703-2019 awarded to S.M.Y). B.W. acknowledges the Penn State MRSEC, Center for Nanoscale Science (award no. NSF DMR-1420620) and L.-Q.C acknowledges the support of the National Science Foundation Materials Theory Program (grant no. DMR-1410714) . The work at Penn State used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) programme, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (grant no. ACI-1548562)32.

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: S. M. Park and B. Wang.


  1. Center for Correlated Electron Systems, Institute for Basic Science (IBS), Seoul, Korea

    • Sung Min Park
    • , Saikat Das
    •  & Tae Won Noh
  2. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea

    • Sung Min Park
    • , Saikat Das
    •  & Tae Won Noh
  3. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

    • Bo Wang
    •  & Long-Qing Chen
  4. Department of Physics Education, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea

    • Seung Chul Chae
  5. Department of Physics, Soongsil University, Seoul, Korea

    • Jin-Seok Chung
  6. Department of Physics, University of Suwon, Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do, Korea

    • Jong-Gul Yoon
  7. Department of Physics, Sookmyung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea

    • Sang Mo Yang


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S.M.P. and T.W.N. conceived and designed the project. S.M.P. fabricated and characterized the thin films. S.D. contributed to the material growth and characterization. B.W. performed phase-field modelling under the supervision of L.-Q.C. S.M.P. designed and conducted the SPM experiments. S.M.Y contributed to the design of the SPM experiments. S.M.P. analysed and discussed the data with all the other authors. S.M.P., B.W., S.D., S.M.Y. and T.W.N. wrote the paper with contributions and feedback from all authors. T.W.N. initiated the study and was responsible for the overall direction.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Sang Mo Yang or Tae Won Noh.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–13, Supplementary references.

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