Picometer Polar Atomic Displacements in Strontium Titanate Determined by Resonant X-ray Diffraction

Carsten Richter, Matthias Zschornak, Dmitri Novikov, Erik Mehner, Melanie Nentwich, Juliane Hanzig, Semën Gorfman, Dirk C Meyer

Nat Commun. 2018 Jan 12;9(1):178.

PMID: 29330508


Physical properties of crystalline materials often manifest themselves as atomic displacements either away from symmetry positions or driven by external fields. Especially the origin of multiferroic or magnetoelectric effects may be hard to ascertain as the related displacements can reach the detection limit. Here we present a resonant X-ray crystal structure analysis technique that shows enhanced sensitivity to minute atomic displacements. It is applied to a recently found crystalline modification of strontium titanate that forms in single crystals under electric field due to oxygen vacancy migration. The phase has demonstrated unexpected properties, including piezoelectricity and pyroelectricity, which can only exist in non-centrosymmetric crystals. Apart from that, the atomic structure has remained elusive and could not be obtained by standard methods. Using resonant X-ray diffraction, we determine atomic displacements with sub-picometer precision and show that the modified structure of strontium titanate corresponds to that of well-known ferroelectrics such as lead titanate.

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