Thickness effect and mechanical tuning behavior such as strain engineering in thin-film ferroelectrics have been extensively studied and widely used to tailor the ferroelectric properties. However, this is never the case in freestanding single crystals, and conclusions from thin films cannot be duplicated because of the differences in the nature and boundary conditions of the thin-film and freestanding single-crystal ferroelectrics. Here, using in situ biasing transmission electron microscopy, we studied the thickness-dependent domain switching behavior and predicted the trend of ferroelectricity in nanoscale materials induced by surface strain. We discovered that sample thickness plays a critical role in tailoring the domain switching behavior and ferroelectric properties of single-crystal ferroelectrics, arising from the huge surface strain and the resulting surface reconstruction. Our results provide important insights in tuning polarization/domain of single-crystal ferroelectric via sample thickness engineering.
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