Mesoscopic Percolating Resistance Network in a Strained Manganite Thin Film

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Science  09 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5988, pp. 190-193
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189925

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Separating Under Strain

Complex oxides, such as cuprate superconductors and perovskites, often exhibit microscopic phase separation, where two or more phases coexist on the macroscopic scale but are spatially separated on the microscopic scale. Lai et al. (p. 190) studied a configuration often found in technological applications, a strained manganite thin film placed on a substrate. Microwave impedance microscopy, which differentiates between conducting and insulating areas on the thin film, allowed visualization of the phase separation as the magnetic field was varied. A network of conducting domains was observed whose orientation and characteristic length scales suggest that the substrate-exerted strain was involved in network formation.


Many unusual behaviors in complex oxides are deeply associated with the spontaneous emergence of microscopic phase separation. Depending on the underlying mechanism, the competing phases can form ordered or random patterns at vastly different length scales. By using a microwave impedance microscope, we observed an orientation-ordered percolating network in strained Nd1/2Sr1/2MnO3 thin films with a large period of 100 nanometers. The filamentary metallic domains align preferentially along certain crystal axes of the substrate, suggesting the anisotropic elastic strain as the key interaction in this system. The local impedance maps provide microscopic electrical information of the hysteretic behavior in strained thin film manganites, suggesting close connection between the glassy order and the colossal magnetoresistance effects at low temperatures.

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