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  1. Abstract

    Molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), a workhorse of the semiconductor industry, has progressed rapidly in the last few decades in the development of novel materials. Recent developments in condensed matter and materials physics have seen the rise of many novel quantum materials that require ultra-clean and high-quality samples for fundamental studies and applications. Novel oxide-based quantum materials synthesized using MBE have advanced the development of the field and materials. In this review, we discuss the recent progress in new MBE techniques that have enabled synthesis of complex oxides that exhibit ‘quantum’ phenomena, including superconductivity and topological electronic states. We show how these techniques have produced breakthroughs in the synthesis of 4d and 5d oxide films and heterostructures that are of particular interest as quantum materials. These new techniques in MBE offer a bright future for the synthesis of ultra-high quality oxide quantum materials.

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  2. Transition metal spinel oxides comprised of earth-abundant Mn and Co have long been explored for their use in catalytic reactions and energy storage. However, understanding functional properties can be challenging due to differences in sample preparation and the ultimate structural properties of the materials. Epitaxial thin film synthesis provides a novel means of producing precisely controlled materials to explore the variations reported in the literature. In this work, MnxCo3−xO4 samples from x = 0 to x = 1.28 were synthesized through molecular beam epitaxy and characterized to develop a material properties map as a function of stoichiometry. Films were characterized via in situ x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, scanning transmission electron microscopy, and polarized K-edge x-ray absorption spectroscopy. Mn cations within this range were found to be octahedrally coordinated, in line with an inverse spinel structure. Samples largely show mixed Mn3+ and Mn4+ character with evidence of phase segregation tendencies with the increasing Mn content and increasing Mn3+ formal charge. Phase segregation may occur due to structural incompatibility between cubic and tetragonal crystal structures associated with Mn4+ and Jahn–Teller active Mn3+ octahedra, respectively. Our results help in explaining the reported differences across samples in these promising materials for renewable energy technologies. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  4. The oxides of platinum group metals are promising for future electronics and spintronics due to the delicate interplay of spin-orbit coupling and electron correlation energies. However, their synthesis as thin films remains challenging due to their low vapour pressures and low oxidation potentials. Here we show how epitaxial strain can be used as a control knob to enhance metal oxidation. Using Ir as an example, we demonstrate the use of epitaxial strain in engineering its oxidation chemistry, enabling phase-pure Ir or IrO2 films despite using identical growth conditions. The observations are explained using a density-functional-theory-based modified formation enthalpy framework, which highlights the important role of metal-substrate epitaxial strain in governing the oxide formation enthalpy. We also validate the generality of this principle by demonstrating epitaxial strain effect on Ru oxidation. The IrO2 films studied in our work further revealed quantum oscillations, attesting to the excellent film quality. The epitaxial strain approach we present could enable growth of oxide films of hard-to-oxidize elements using strain engineering. 
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  5. This work demonstrates the advantage of carrying out silicon ion (Si+) implantation at high temperatures for forming controlled heavily doped regions in gallium oxide. Room temperature (RT, 25 °C) and high temperature (HT, 600 °C) Si implants were carried out into MBE grown (010) β-Ga2O3 films to form ∼350 nm deep Si-doped layers with average concentrations up to ∼1.2 × 1020 cm−3. For such high concentrations, the RT sample was too resistive for measurement, but the HT samples had 82.1% Si dopant activation efficiency with a high sheet electron concentration of 3.3 × 1015 cm−2 and an excellent mobility of 92.8 cm2/V·s at room temperature. X-ray diffraction measurements indicate that HT implantation prevents the formation of other Ga2O3 phases and results in reduced structural defects and lattice damage. These results are highly encouraging for achieving ultra-low resistance heavily doped Ga2O3 layers using ion implantation.

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  6. 4d transition metal oxides have emerged as promising materials for numerous applications including high mobility electronics. SrNbO3 is one such candidate material, serving as a good donor material in interfacial oxide systems and exhibiting high electron mobility in ultrathin films. However, its synthesis is challenging due to the metastable nature of the d1 Nb4+ cation and the limitations in the delivery of refractory Nb. To date, films have been grown primarily by pulsed laser deposition (PLD), but development of a means to grow and stabilize the material via molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) would enable studies of interfacial phenomena and multilayer structures that may be challenging by PLD. To that end, SrNbO3 thin films were grown using hybrid MBE for the first time using a tris(diethylamido)(tert-butylimido) niobium precursor for Nb and an elemental Sr source on GdScO3 substrates. Varying thicknesses of insulating SrHfO3 capping layers were deposited using a hafnium tert-butoxide precursor for Hf on top of SrNbO3 films to preserve the metastable surface. Grown films were transferred in vacuo for x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy to quantify elemental composition, density of states at the Fermi energy, and Nb oxidation state. Ex situ studies by x-ray absorption near edge spectroscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy illustrate that the SrHfO3 capping plays an important role in preserving the crystalline quality of the material and the Nb 4d1 metastable charge state under atmospheric conditions.

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  7. Nanocrystalline MnFe2O4 has shown promise as a catalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in alkaline solutions, but the material has been sparingly studied as highly ordered thin-film catalysts. To examine the role of surface termination and Mn and Fe site occupancy, epitaxial MnFe2O4 and Fe3O4 spinel oxide films were grown on (001)- and (111)-oriented Nb:SrTiO3 perovskite substrates using molecular beam epitaxy and studied as electrocatalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). High-resolution X-ray diffraction (HRXRD) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) show the synthesis of pure phase materials, while scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) and reflection high-energy electron diffraction (RHEED) analysis demonstrate island-like growth of (111) surface-terminated pyramids on both (001)- and (111)-oriented substrates, consistent with the literature and attributed to the lattice mismatch between the spinel films and the perovskite substrate. Cyclic voltammograms under a N2 atmosphere revealed distinct redox features for Mn and Fe surface termination based on comparison of MnFe2O4 and Fe3O4. Under an O2 atmosphere, electrocatalytic reduction of oxygen was observed at both Mn and Fe redox features; however, a diffusion-limited current was only achieved at potentials consistent with Fe reduction. This result contrasts with that of nanocrystalline MnFe2O4 reported in the literature where the diffusion-limited current is achieved with Mn-based catalysis. This difference is attributed to a low density of Mn surface termination, as determined by the integration of current from CVs collected under N2, in addition to low conductivity through the MnFe2O4 film due to the degree of inversion. Such low densities are attributed to the synthetic method and island-like growth pattern and highlight challenges in studying ORR catalysis with single-crystal spinel materials. 
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  8. Transition metal oxides have long been an area of interest for water electrocatalysis through the oxygen evolution and oxygen reduction reactions. Iron oxides, such as LaFeO 3 , are particularly promising due to the favorable energy alignment of the valence and conduction bands comprised of Fe 3+ cations and the visible light band gap of such materials. In this work, we examine the role of band alignment on the electrocatalytic oxygen evolution reaction (OER) in the intrinsic semiconductor LaFeO 3 by growing epitaxial films of varying thicknesses on Nb-doped SrTiO 3 . Using cyclic voltammetry, we find that there is a strong thickness dependence on the efficiency of electrocatalysis for OER. These measurements are understood based on interfacial band alignment in the system as well as catalytically active surface defect states as confirmed by layer-resolved electron energy loss spectroscopy, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, and Mott–Schottky measurements. Our results demonstrate the importance of band engineering for the rational design of thin film electrocatalysts for renewable energy sources. 
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  9. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Emergent behavior at oxide interfaces has driven research in complex oxide films for the past 20 years. Interfaces have been engineered for applications in spintronics, topological quantum computing, and high-speed electronics with properties not observed in bulk materials. Advances in synthesis have made the growth of these interfaces possible, while X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) studies have often explained the observed interfacial phenomena. This review discusses leading recent research, focusing on key results and the XPS studies that enabled them. We describe how the in situ integration of synthesis and spectroscopy improves the growth process and accelerates scientific discovery. Specific techniques include determination of interfacial intermixing, valence band alignment, and interfacial charge transfer. A recurring theme is the role that atmospheric exposure plays on material properties, which we highlight in several material systems. We demonstrate how synchrotron studies have answered questions that are impossible in lab-based systems and how to improve such experiments in the future. 
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