Stacking Fault Induced Symmetry Breaking in van der Waals Nanowires

While traditional ferroelectrics are based on polar crystals in bulk or thin film form, two-dimensional and layered materials can support mechanisms for symmetry breaking between centrosymmetric building blocks, e.g., by creating low-symmetry interfaces in van der Waals stacks. Here, we introduce an approach toward symmetry breaking in van der Waals crystals that relies on the spontaneous incorporation of stacking faults in a nonpolar bulk layer sequence. The concept is realized in nanowires consisting of Se-rich group IV monochalcogenide (GeSe1–xSₓ) alloys, obtained by vapor–liquid–solid growth. The single crystalline wires adopt a layered structure in which the nonpolar A-B bulk stacking along the nanowire axis is interrupted by single-layer stacking faults with local A-A′ stacking. Density functional theory explains this behavior by a reduced stacking fault formation energy in GeSe (or Se-rich GeSe1–xSₓ alloys). Computations demonstrate that, similar to monochalcogenide monolayers, the inserted A-layers should show a spontaneous electric polarization with a switching barrier consistent with a Curie temperature above room temperature. Second-harmonic generation signals are consistent with a variable density of stacking faults along the wires. Our results point to possible routes for designing ferroelectrics via the layer stacking in van der Waals crystals.