Shedding Light on Oxide Interfaces

Science  20 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6032, pp. 922-923
DOI: 10.1126/science.1206247

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In the stable of solid-state materials, silicon is the workhorse. Its semiconductor properties are actually quite ordinary, but when other materials are harnessed to it to form interfaces, remarkable devices can be made that control the flow of electrical current with low applied voltages. In contrast, some transition metal oxides would be the stable's racehorses. Remarkable functional behaviors of this group include the ability to change from a metal to an insulator with a slight change in temperature, unusual magnetic properties, and even high-temperature superconductivity (1). Further novel properties are expected to emerge at interfaces created between transition metal oxides that already exhibit functional behavior, and these properties could be tuned through small changes in composition or by simply applying a bias voltage (2). However, like temperamental racehorses, the interfaces in these complex oxides can be more difficult to control than those formed by silicon. On page 937 of this issue, Boris et al. (3) report progress toward this goal by confining an ultrathin layer of lanthanum nickelate (LaNiO3), normally a paramagnetic metal, between insulating lanthanum aluminate (LaAlO3) layers, which leads to changes in its properties.