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  1. Abstract

    Wurtzite ferroelectric materials are promising candidates for energy‐efficient memory technologies, particularly for applications requiring high operating temperatures. Asymmetric wake‐up behaviors, in which the polarization reversal depends both on polarity and cycle number for the first few dozen cycles, must be better understood for reliable device operation. Here, the detailed analysis of the asymmetric wake‐up behavior of thin film Al0.94B0.06N was performed combining time‐resolved switching measurements with Rayleigh analysis, piezoelectric measurements, and etching experiments of progressively switched samples. The analysis shows that the gradual opening of the polarization hysteresis loops associated with wake‐up is driven by a gradual increase in the domain‐wall density and/or domain‐wall mobility with electric field cycle to the polarity opposite to the growth polarity. The insights of this discovery will help to guide interface and polarity design in the eventual deployment of reliable devices based on these materials.

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  2. III-nitrides and related alloys are widely used for optoelectronics and as acoustic resonators. Ferroelectric wurtzite nitrides are of particular interest because of their potential for direct integration with Si and wide bandgap semiconductors and unique polarization switching characteristics; such interest has taken off since the first report of ferroelectric Al1−xScxN alloys. However, the coercive fields needed to switch polarization are on the order of MV/cm, which are 1–2 orders of magnitude larger than oxide perovskite ferroelectrics. Atomic-scale point defects are known to impact the dielectric properties, including breakdown fields and leakage currents, as well as ferroelectric switching. However, very little is known about the native defects and impurities in Al1−xScxN and their effect on the dielectric and ferroelectric properties. In this study, we use first-principles calculations to determine the formation energetics of native defects and unintentional oxygen incorporation and their effects on the polarization switching barriers in Al1−xScxN alloys. We find that nitrogen vacancies are the dominant native defects, and unintentional oxygen incorporation on the nitrogen site is present in high concentrations. They introduce multiple mid-gap states that can lead to premature dielectric breakdown and increased temperature-activated leakage currents in ferroelectrics. We also find that nitrogen vacancy and substitutional oxygen reduce the switching barrier in Al1−xScxN at low Sc compositions. The effect is minimal or even negative (increases barrier) at higher Sc compositions. Unintentional defects are generally considered to adversely affect ferroelectric properties, but our findings reveal that controlled introduction of point defects by tuning synthesis conditions can instead benefit polarization switching in ferroelectric Al1−xScxN at certain compositions.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 8, 2025
  3. Wurtzite-type ferroelectrics have drawn increasing attention due to the promise of better performance and integration than traditional oxide ferroelectrics with semiconductors such as Si, SiC, and III-V compounds. However, wurtzite-type ferroelectrics generally require enormous electric fields, approaching breakdown, to reverse their polarization. The underlying switching mechanism(s), especially for multinary compounds and alloys, remains elusive. Here, we examine the switching behaviors in Al1−xScxN alloys and wurtzite-type multinary candidate compounds we recently computationally identified. We find that switching in these tetrahedrally coordinated materials proceeds via a variety of nonpolar intermediate structures and that switching barriers are dominated by the more-electronegative cations. For Al1−xScxN alloys, we find that the switching pathway changes from a collective mechanism to a lower-barrier mechanism enabled by inversion of individual tetrahedra with increased Sc composition. Our findings provide insights for future engineering and realization of wurtzite-type materials and open a door to understanding domain motion.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 17, 2025
  4. Transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDC) are currently drawing significant interest from the scientific community as 2D materials that have intrinsically semiconducting bandgaps. One additional advantage of TMDCs for discovering and developing materials with novel electronic, electromechanical, or optoelectronic properties is that both layer composition and registry can be readily tailored. To understand how such tailoring can expand the range of properties, here we used density functional theory calculations to determine the electronic structure and piezoelectric properties of bilayer TMDC heterostructures based on MoX2 and WX2, where X can be S, Se, or Te. For identical layers with no misorientation with respect to one another, we find that the registry of the two layers can change the bandgap type (direct vs indirect), as well as its value (by ≈0.25 eV). We report similar conclusions for bilayer heterostructures in which the composition of the two layers is different. Interlayer registry also has a pronounced effect on piezoelectric properties as the piezoelectric coefficients of the two layers either nearly cancel each other or add up to yield enhanced values for the associated TMDC bilayer heterostructures. These results may serve as a guide for enhancing electronic and piezoelectric properties by stacking TMDC layers.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2025
  5. Low-energy compute-in-memory architectures promise to reduce the energy demand for computation and data storage. Wurtzite- type ferroelectrics are promising options for both performance and integration with existing semiconductor processes. The Al1-xScxN alloy is among the few tetrahedral materials that exhibit polarization switching, but the electric field required to switch the polarization is too high (few MV/cm). Going beyond binary com- pounds, we explore the search space of multinary wurtzite-type compounds. Through this large-scale search, we identify four prom- ising ternary nitrides and oxides, including Mg2PN3, MgSiN2, Li2SiO3, and Li2GeO3, for future experimental realization and engi- neering. In >90% of the considered multinary materials, we identify unique switching pathways and non-polar structures that are distinct from the commonly assumed switching mechanism in AlN-based materials. Our results disprove the existing design principle based on the reduction of the wurtzite c/a lattice parameter ratio when comparing different chemistries while sup- porting two emerging design principles—ionicity and bond strength. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2025
  6. Anomalously abrupt nucleation and growth kinetics in polarization switching of wurtzite ferroelectrics are demonstrated. The anomaly inspires an extension of the traditional model to a regime that simultaneous non-linear nucleation and growth occur.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 31, 2024
  7. A high-speed and high-power current measurement instrument is described for measuring rapid switching of ferroelectric samples with large spontaneous polarization and coercive field. Instrument capabilities (±200 V, 200 mA, and 200 ns order response) are validated with a LiTaO3 single crystal whose switching kinetics are well known. The new instrument described here enables measurements that are not possible using existing commercial measurement systems, including the observation of ferroelectric switching in large coercive field and large spontaneous polarization Al0.7Sc0.3N thin films. 
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  8. Ferroelectricity enables key modern technologies from non-volatile memory to precision ultrasound. The first known wurtzite ferroelectric Al 1− x Sc x N has recently attracted attention because of its robust ferroelectricity and Si process compatibility, but the chemical and structural origins of ferroelectricity in wurtzite materials are not yet fully understood. Here we show that ferroelectric behavior in wurtzite nitrides has local chemical rather than extended structural origin. According to our coupled experimental and computational results, the local bond ionicity and ionic displacement, rather than simply the change in the lattice parameter of the wurtzite structure, is key to controlling the macroscopic ferroelectric response in these materials. Across gradients in composition and thickness of 0 < x < 0.35 and 140–260 nm, respectively, in combinatorial thin films of Al 1− x Sc x N, the pure wurtzite phase exhibits a similar c / a ratio regardless of the Sc content due to elastic interaction with neighboring crystals. The coercive field and spontaneous polarization significantly decrease with increasing Sc content despite this invariant c / a ratio. This property change is due to the more ionic bonding nature of Sc–N relative to the more covalent Al–N bonds, and the local displacement of the neighboring Al atoms caused by Sc substitution, according to DFT calculations. Based on these insights, ionicity engineering is introduced as an approach to reduce coercive field of Al 1− x Sc x N for memory and other applications and to control ferroelectric properties in other wurtzites. 
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