Real-space imaging of periodic nanotextures in thin films via phasing of diffraction data

Ziming Shao, Noah Schnitzer, Jacob Ruf, Oleg Yu Gorobtsov, Cheng Dai, Berit H. Goodge, Tiannan Yang, Hari Nair, Vlad A. Stoica, John W. Freeland, Jacob P. Ruff, Long Qing Chen, Darrell G. Schlom, Kyle M. Shen, Lena F. Kourkoutis, Andrej Singer

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New properties and exotic quantum phenomena can form due to periodic nanotextures, including Moire patterns, ferroic domains, and topologically protected magnetization and polarization textures. Despite the availability of powerful tools to characterize the atomic crystal structure, the visualization of nanoscale strain-modulated structural motifs remains challenging. Here, we develop nondestructive real-space imaging of periodic lattice distortions in thin epitaxial films and report an emergent periodic nanotexture in a Mott insulator. Specifically, we combine iterative phase retrieval with unsupervised machine learning to invert the diffuse scattering pattern from conventional X-ray reciprocal-space maps into real-space images of crystalline displacements. Our imaging in PbTiO3/SrTiO3 superlattices exhibiting checkerboard strain modulation substantiates published phase-field model calculations. Furthermore, the imaging of biaxially strained Mott insulator Ca2RuO4 reveals a strain-induced nanotexture comprised of nanometer-thin metallic-structure wires separated by nanometer-thin Mott-insulating-structure walls, as confirmed by cryogenic scanning transmission electron microscopy (cryo-STEM). The nanotexture in Ca2RuO4 film is induced by the metal-to-insulator transition and has not been reported in bulk crystals. We expect the phasing of diffuse X-ray scattering from thin crystalline films in combination with cryo-STEM to open a powerful avenue for discovering, visualizing, and quantifying the periodic strain-modulated structures in quantum materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2303312120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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