Research Articles

Femtosecond Resolution of Soft Mode Dynamics in Structural Phase Transitions

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Science  30 Oct 1992:
Vol. 258, Issue 5083, pp. 770-774
DOI: 10.1126/science.258.5083.770


The microscopic pathway along which ions or molecules in a crystal move during a structural phase transition can often be described in terms of a collective vibrational mode of the lattice. In many cases, this mode, called a "soft" phonon mode because of its characteristically low frequency near the phase transition temperature, is difficult to characterize through conventional frequency-domain spectroscopies such as light or neutron scattering. A femtosecond time-domain analog of light-scattering spectroscopy called impulsive stimulated Raman scattering (ISRS) has been used to examine the soft modes of two perovskite ferroelectric crystals. The low-frequency lattice dynamics of KNbO3 and BaTiO3 are clarified in a manner that permits critical evaluation of microscopic models for their ferroelectric transitions. The results illustrate the advantages of ISRS over conventional Raman spectroscopy of low-frequency, heavily damped soft modes.