Argonne scientists find new set of multiferroic materials

October 20, 2009

Breakthrough resulted from collaborative research with universities

ARGONNE, Ill. —  The trail to a new multiferroic started with the theories of a U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory scientist and ended with a multidisciplinary collaboration that created a material with potential impact on next generation electronics.

Argonne scientist Craig Fennie's principles of microscopic materials design predicted that the high pressure form of FeTiO3 would have both weak ferromagnetism and ferroelectric polarization, an unusual combination in a single material. 

"We were able to take the theory and, through targeted synthesis and measurement, prove that FeTiO3 has both weak ferromagnetism and ferroelectricity, just as Craig predicted," Argonne scientist John Mitchell said. "Success in this materials design and discovery project would not have been possible without a collaborative team involving several disciplines and talents from across the lab and indeed the country.”

Scientists from Argonne's Materials Science division and Center for Nanoscale Materials along with scientists from Pennsylvania State University, University of Chicago and Cornell University used piezoresponse force microscopy, optical second harmonic generation and magnetometry to show ferroelectricity at and below room temperature and weak ferromagnetism below 120 Kelvin for polycrystalline FeTiO3 synthesized at high pressure.

Multiferroic materials show both magnetism and polar order, which are seemingly contradictory properties. Magnetic ferroelectrics may have applications in memory, sensors, actuators and other multifunctional devices by acting as magnetic switches when their electric fields are reversed.

This project was recently published in Physical Review Letters.

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science.

The Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale, supported by the DOE Office of Science.  Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.  The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.  For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit http://nano.energy.gov.