Dimensionality Control of Electronic Phase Transitions in Nickel-Oxide Superlattices

Science  20 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6032, pp. 937-940
DOI: 10.1126/science.1202647

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The competition between collective quantum phases in materials with strongly correlated electrons depends sensitively on the dimensionality of the electron system, which is difficult to control by standard solid-state chemistry. We have fabricated superlattices of the paramagnetic metal lanthanum nickelate (LaNiO3) and the wide-gap insulator lanthanum aluminate (LaAlO3) with atomically precise layer sequences. We used optical ellipsometry and low-energy muon spin rotation to show that superlattices with LaNiO3 as thin as two unit cells undergo a sequence of collective metal-insulator and antiferromagnetic transitions as a function of decreasing temperature, whereas samples with thicker LaNiO3 layers remain metallic and paramagnetic at all temperatures. Metal-oxide superlattices thus allow control of the dimensionality and collective phase behavior of correlated-electron systems.

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