Polarization Control of Electron Tunneling into Ferroelectric Surfaces

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Science  12 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5933, pp. 1421-1425
DOI: 10.1126/science.1171200

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We demonstrate a highly reproducible control of local electron transport through a ferroelectric oxide via its spontaneous polarization. Electrons are injected from the tip of an atomic force microscope into a thin film of lead-zirconate titanate, Pb(Zr0.2Ti0.8)O3, in the regime of electron tunneling assisted by a high electric field (Fowler-Nordheim tunneling). The tunneling current exhibits a pronounced hysteresis with abrupt switching events that coincide, within experimental resolution, with the local switching of ferroelectric polarization. The large spontaneous polarization of the PZT film results in up to 500-fold amplification of the tunneling current upon ferroelectric switching. The magnitude of the effect is subject to electrostatic control via ferroelectric switching, suggesting possible applications in ultrahigh-density data storage and spintronics.

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