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Posted: Aug 30, 2012
Multifunctional devices from single-compound crystals
(Nanowerk News) EU-funded researchers characterised a novel class of compounds capable of exhibiting different electrical or magnetic properties at different locations on the same crystal.
Instances in which engineers and designers use two or more materials to develop products with characteristics of both are virtually ubiquitous. From metal alloys in airplane parts to the use of a bit of latex together with cotton in textiles, numerous examples can be found where combinations of materials have more desirable properties than either alone.
In the case of electronic devices, the same convention has generally applied. The landscape is changing.
Some materials exhibit a range of electrical and magnetic properties at different positions of the same crystal, referred to as electrical or magnetic inhomogeneity or phase separation. Manganites, a class of minerals formed from the compound manganese oxyhydroxide (MnO(OH)), are among these materials.
The ability to produce multifunctional devices out of single materials creates the possibility of controlling device function with atomic precision and without the complexity of conventional nanomanufacturing techniques.
European researchers initiated the ‘Controlling mesoscopic phase separation’ (Comephs) project to pursue the goal of achieving functional mesoscopic (between microscopic and macroscopic, from the size of individual atoms to quantities of atoms) textured states. In particular, they sought to control phase separation mechanisms in manganites and related compounds.
Compounds were prepared in crystalline forms or as thin layers and characterised to identify regions of electronic phase separation. Effects of various external stimuli such as pressure or a magnetic field and of different substrates and substrate properties on phase separation were evaluated.
In the end, scientists demonstrated the feasibility of using various external stimuli on thin films to control texture. Experimental techniques employing sophisticated imaging systems enabled visualisation of space modulation of physical properties and full characterisation of textured states.
Knowledge generated regarding inhomogeneous states and their manipulation should have direct and important impact on the microelectronics industry and all others that support it indirectly.