Ferroelectric phase transitions induced by a strain gradient
In perovskite oxide ferroelectrics, gradients of lattice strain are known to induce nanoscale topological structures, leading to novel or enhanced functionality. Here, we experimentally detect and theoretically analyze thickness distribution of structural properties in epitaxial Pb0.5 Sr0.5 TiO3 films grown on (001) SrTiO3 substrates. We show that the relaxation of substrate-imposed stress produces a strain gradient, which leads to the formation of distinct ferroelectric phases as a function of distance from the film-substrate interface within the same film. Charge carriers trapped at phase boundaries stabilize the induced phases and manifest themselves under electric field. Crosstalk between the phases, where polarization may rotate in one phase and invert in the other one, opens perspectives for advanced ferroelectric thin film devices.