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Terahertz field–induced ferroelectricity in quantum paraelectric SrTiO3

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Science  14 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6445, pp. 1079-1082
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw4913

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Driving strontium titanate ferroelectric

Hidden phases are metastable collective states of matter that are typically not accessible on equilibrium phase diagrams. Nova et al. used infrared pulses to excite higher-frequency lattice modes that drive the crystal into a metastable ferroelectric phase, a phase that can persist for many hours. X. Li et al. used terahertz fields to drive the soft mode that moves the ions in the crystal into the positions they occupy in the new phase. The ferroelectric phase in this case was transient, lasting on the order of 10 picoseconds. Because these hidden phases can host exotic properties in otherwise conventional materials, the accessibility to and control of such hidden phases may broaden potential functionality and applications.

Science, this issue p. 1075, p. 1079

Abstract

“Hidden phases” are metastable collective states of matter that are typically not accessible on equilibrium phase diagrams. These phases can host exotic properties in otherwise conventional materials and hence may enable novel functionality and applications, but their discovery and access are still in early stages. Using intense terahertz electric field excitation, we found that an ultrafast phase transition into a hidden ferroelectric phase can be dynamically induced in quantum paraelectric strontium titanate (SrTiO3). The induced lowering in crystal symmetry yields substantial changes in the phonon excitation spectra. Our results demonstrate collective coherent control over material structure, in which a single-cycle field drives ions along the microscopic pathway leading directly to their locations in a new crystalline phase on an ultrafast time scale.

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