Researchers at the University of Arkansas have shown that light can be used to make fundamental changes in ferroelectric materials, a discovery that could lead to a new generation of optically driven computer memory, switches, actuators and sensors.
Ferroelectric materials such as barium and lead titanate have a specific polarization, which defines the orientation of their internal electric fields. That polarization is typically manipulated using temperature, pressure, chemistry or voltages.
Building on recent experimental work, the researchers used calculations to show that light-induced transitions are indeed possible, and suggested ways of designing ferroelectric materials that would optimize the desired qualities.
“This has not been done before,” said Charles Paillard, a post-doctoral fellow at the time of the research and now an associate professor at CentraleSupélec in France, and the first author of a study titled “Photo Induced Phase Transitions in Ferroelectrics” published in the journal Physical Review Letters. “We excitedly found that mixing materials with different natures, one ferroelectric, one not, we could switch functionality with light.”
“We are glad to have revealed and understood why the application of light can dramatically affect properties of ferroelectrics and related materials,” said Laurent Bellaiche, Distinguished Professor of physics and an author on the paper.
The research was funded through a grant from the Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capability Development Command’s Army Research Office. Pani (Chakrapani) Varanasi, chief of the Materials Science Division of the Army Research Office, said the discovery could be fundamental to the Army.
“We are excited that this research can open a new field of research dedicated to designing an all-optical control of properties of ferroelectrics,” said Varanasi. “This is a very important basic research result, as the optical control of phase transformations in ferroelectrics (in addition to temperature, electrical field, strain etc.) could open new opportunities for developing next generation Army applications.”