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Title: Emergent chirality in a polar meron to skyrmion phase transition

Polar skyrmions are predicted to emerge from the interplay of elastic, electrostatic and gradient energies, in contrast to the key role of the anti-symmetric Dzyalozhinskii-Moriya interaction in magnetic skyrmions. Here, we explore the reversible transition from a skyrmion state (topological charge of −1) to a two-dimensional, tetratic lattice of merons (with topological charge of −1/2) upon varying the temperature and elastic boundary conditions in [(PbTiO3)16/(SrTiO3)16]8membranes. This topological phase transition is accompanied by a change in chirality, from zero-net chirality (in meronic phase) to net-handedness (in skyrmionic phase). We show how scanning electron diffraction provides a robust measure of the local polarization simultaneously with the strain state at sub-nm resolution, while also directly mapping the chirality of each skyrmion. Using this, we demonstrate strain as a crucial order parameter to drive isotropic-to-anisotropic structural transitions of chiral polar skyrmions to non-chiral merons, validated with X-ray reciprocal space mapping and phase-field simulations.

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Nature Communications
Nature Publishing Group
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National Science Foundation
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