The origin of incipient ferroelectricity in lead telluride.


The interactions between electrons and lattice vibrations are fundamental to materials behaviour. In the case of group IV-VI, V and related materials, these interactions are strong, and the materials exist near electronic and structural phase transitions. The prototypical example is PbTe whose incipient ferroelectric behaviour has been recently associated with large phonon anharmonicity and thermoelectricity. Here we show that it is primarily electron-phonon coupling involving electron states near the band edges that leads to the ferroelectric instability in PbTe. Using a combination of nonequilibrium lattice dynamics measurements and first principles calculations, we find that photoexcitation reduces the Peierls-like electronic instability and reinforces the paraelectric state. This weakens the long-range forces along the cubic direction tied to resonant bonding and low lattice thermal conductivity. Our results demonstrate how free-electron-laser-based ultrafast X-ray scattering can be utilized to shed light on the microscopic mechanisms that determine materials properties.






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Publication Info

Jiang, MP, M Trigo, I Savić, S Fahy, ÉD Murray, C Bray, J Clark, T Henighan, et al. (2016). The origin of incipient ferroelectricity in lead telluride. Nat Commun, 7. p. 12291. 10.1038/ncomms12291 Retrieved from

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Olivier Delaire

Associate Professor of the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

The Delaire group investigates atomistic transport processes of energy and charge, and thermodynamics in energy materials. We use a combined experimental and computational approach to understand and control microscopic energy transport for the design of next-generation materials, in particular for sustainable energy applications. Current materials of interest include superionic conductors, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, ferroelectrics/multiferroics, and metal-insulator transitions. Our group's studies provide fundamental insights into  atomic dynamics and elementary excitations in condensed-matter systems (phonons, electrons, spins), their couplings and their effects on macroscopic properties. We probe the microscopic underpinnings of transport and thermodynamics properties by integrating neutron and x-ray scattering, optical spectroscopy, and thermal characterization, together with quantum-mechanical computer simulations.

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