Density functional thermodynamic description of spin, phonon and displacement degrees of freedom in antiferromagnetic-to-paramagnetic phase transition in YNiO3

J. L. Du, O. I. Malyi, S. L. Shang, Y. Wang, X. G. Zhao, F. Liu, A. Zunger, Z. K. Liu

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14 Scopus citations


This work demonstrates a direct density functional description of the finite-temperature thermodynamic properties of solids exhibiting phase transitions through positional and spin symmetry breaking degrees of freedom. A classic example addressed here is the rare-earth (R) nickelates RNiO3 where the ground state is characterized by crystallographic and magnetic (e.g., antiferromagnetic) long-range order (LRO), whereas the higher temperature paramagnetic phase manifests a range of local spin and positional symmetry breaking motifs with short-range order (SRO). Unlike time-dependent simulations of spin and positional degrees of freedom, in the present work, phases are described via a superposition of static configurations constructed by populating a periodic base lattice supercell allowing for the formation of energy lowing distribution of positional and spin local motifs. The thermal populations of the configurations in such a superposition phase are obtained from the energy-minimized Density Functional Theory (DFT)-calculated partition functions at different temperatures. This approach offers flexible inclusion of different physical contributions to the free energy, such as elastic, electronic and phonon free energies, all obtained from the same underlying DFT total energy calculations of periodic structures. The thermodynamic and magnetic properties of both LRO and SRO crystallographic and spin phases, including antiferromagnetic (AFM) to paramagnetic (PM) Néel phase transition in YNiO3 are studied. Including spin and phonon contributions, we find a DFT-calculated Néel temperature to be 144 K in satisfactory agreement with the experimental value of 145 K; whereas omitting the phonon contribution, one obtains a Néel temperature of 81 K. We present phonon contributions to the DFT-calculated temperature-dependent SRO, heat capacities, and the polymorphous distribution of nonzero local magnetic moments in the PM phase. This approach thus extends to finite temperatures the symmetry-broken DFT description of both the AFM and PM phases, demonstrating that a thermodynamic superposition approach based on symmetry broken configurations evaluated by a mean-field like DFT is sufficient to obtain a consistent description of the thermal physics of the AFM, PM phases and their interconversion in 3d oxides illustrated by YNiO3.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100805
JournalMaterials Today Physics
StatePublished - Oct 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Energy (miscellaneous)
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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