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  1. Abstract Domain switching pathways in ferroelectric materials visualized by dynamic piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM) are explored via variational autoencoder, which simplifies the elements of the observed domain structure, crucially allowing for rotational invariance, thereby reducing the variability of local polarization distributions to a small number of latent variables. For small sampling window sizes the latent space is degenerate, and variability is observed only in the direction of a single latent variable that can be identified with the presence of domain wall. For larger window sizes, the latent space is 2D, and the disentangled latent variables can be generally interpreted as the degree of switching and complexity of domain structure. Applied to multiple consecutive PFM images acquired while monitoring domain switching, the polarization switching mechanism can thus be visualized in the latent space, providing insight into domain evolution mechanisms and their correlation with the microstructure. 
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  2. Abstract

    While grain boundaries (GBs) in conventional inorganic semiconductors are frequently considered as detrimental for photogenerated carrier transport, their exact role remains obscure for the emerging hybrid perovskite semiconductors. A primary challenge for GB-property investigations is that experimentally they need to be performed at the top surface, which is not only insensitive to depth-dependent inhomogeneities but also could be susceptible to topographic artifacts. Accordingly, we have developed a unique approach based on tomographic atomic force microscopy, achieving a fully-3D, photogenerated carrier transport map at the nanoscale in hybrid perovskites. This reveals GBs serving as highly interconnected conducting channels for carrier transport. We have further discovered the coexistence of two GB types in hybrid perovskites, one exhibiting enhanced carrier mobilities, while the other is insipid. Our approach reveals otherwise inaccessible buried features and previously unresolved conduction pathways, crucial for optimizing hybrid perovskites for various optoelectronic applications including solar cells and photodetectors.

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  3. Abstract

    The dynamics of ferroelectric domain switching are directly mapped in a PbZr0.2Ti0.8O3thin film using piezoresponse force microscopy. Employing the rastering tip as a poling electrode to locally apply a fixed bias near the coercive field, while simultaneously monitoring the evolving domain pattern during continuous imaging, the effectively independent switching dynamics for numerous domains are directly investigated. While areal poling follows the anticipated S‐curve, this is shown to be the collective outcome of linear terminal radial growth for an ensemble of independently nucleating domains. By repeating such spatially resolved measurements in the same region, but with progressively greater fields, nucleation sites and growth patterns are shown to clearly repeat. This reveals apparent defects which comparatively promote switching, and nucleation times and growth rates that accelerate exponentially. After analyzing and mapping the ratio of activation energies for nucleation to growth, a high density of nucleation sites can possibly be activated with higher poling fields—even if only at the start of a poling process—enabling faster and more efficient switching to be engineered as directly demonstrated.

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  4. Nanometer-scale 3D imaging of materials properties is critical for understanding equilibrium states in electronic materials, as well as for optimization of device performance and reliability, even though such capabilities remain a substantial experimental challenge. Tomographic atomic force microscopy (TAFM) is presented as a subtractive scanning probe technique for high-resolution, 3D ferroelectric property measurements. Volumetric property resolution below 315 nm 3 , as well as unit-cell-scale vertical material removal, are demonstrated. Specifically, TAFM is applied to investigate the size dependence of ferroelectricity in the room-temperature multiferroic BiFeO 3 across two decades of thickness to below 1 nm. TAFM enables volumetric imaging of ferroelectric domains in BiFeO 3 with a significant improvement in spatial resolution compared with existing domain tomography techniques. We additionally employ TAFM for direct, thickness-dependent measurements of the local spontaneous polarization and ferroelectric coercive field in BiFeO 3 . The thickness-resolved ferroelectric properties strongly correlate with cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy (TEM), Landau–Ginzburg–Devonshire phenomenological theory, and the semiempirical Kay–Dunn scaling law for ferroelectric coercive fields. These results provide an unambiguous determination of a stable and switchable polar state in BiFeO 3 to thicknesses below 5 nm. The accuracy and utility of these findings on finite size effects in ferroelectric and multiferroic materials more broadly exemplifies the potential for novel insight into nanoscale 3D property measurements via other variations of TAFM. 
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  5. Abstract

    To satisfy continual demands for higher performance dielectrics in multi‐layer ceramic capacitors and related microelectronic devices, novel characterization methods are necessary for mapping materials properties down to the nanoscale, where enabling materials developments are increasingly relevant. Accordingly, an atomic force microscopy‐based approach is implemented for characterizing insulator performance based on the mapping of discharging dynamics. Following surface charging by biasing a conducting tip contacting a dielectric surface, consecutive non‐contact Kelvin force surface potential mapping (KPFM) reveals charge dissipation via exponential decay. In barium titanate (BTO) thin films engineered with distinct microstructures but identical thicknesses, discharging rates vary by up to a factor of 2, with smaller grain size correlating to longer dissipation times, providing insight into optimal microstructures for improved capacitor performance. High‐resolution potential mapping as a function of time thereby provides a route for directly investigating charge injection and discharging mechanisms in dielectrics, which are increasingly engineered down to the nanoscale and have global implications given the trillions of such devices manufactured each year.

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