Abstract: Fluorite-structure ferroelectrics — in particular the orthorhombic phase of HfO2 — are of paramount interest to academia and industry because they show unprecedented scalability down to 1-nm-thick size and are compatible with Si electronics. However, their polarization switching is believed to be limited by the intrinsically high energy barrier of ferroelectric domain wall (DW) motions. Here, by unveiling a new topological class of DWs, we establish an atomic-scale mechanism of polarization switching in orthorhombic HfO2 that exhibits unexpectedly low energy barriers of DW motion (up to 35-fold lower than given by previous conjectures). These findings demonstrate that the nucleation-and-growth-based mechanism is feasible, challenging the commonly held view that the rapid growth of the oppositely polarized domain is impossible. Building on this insight, we describe a strategy to substantially reduce the coercive fields in HfO2-based ferroelectric devices. Our work is a crucial step towards understanding the polarization switching of HfO2, which could provide a means to solve the key problems associated with operation speed and endurance.

Unexpectedly low barrier of ferroelectric switching in HfO2 via topological domain walls
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DOI: 10.1016/j.mattod.2021.07.022