April 23, 2024

This research could result in electronics with greater endurance.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have made an important discovery in materials science. They now know how fatigue occurs in ferroelectric materials for the first time.

Many devices use ferroelectric materials like memories, capacitors, and actuators. These devices are used in various industrial and consumer instruments such as computers, underwater sonars, medical ultrasound equipment, or other diagnostic tools.

Due to repeated electrical and mechanical loading, ferroelectric materials can become less functional over time. This is known as “ferroelectric fatigue.”

It is the main reason for many electronic device failures, with discarded electronics being the most significant contributor to waste. Every year, thousands of tonnes of electronic devices that have failed go to landfills around the world.

Images taken with electron microscopy show the degrading process in action. Credit: University of Sydney

The School of Aerospace, Mechanical, and Mechatronic Engineering monitored ferroelectric fatigue in real-time using advanced in-situ electron microscopes. This advanced microscope lets you see the entire spectrum of electrons and nanoscales in real-time.

Researchers hope this observation, published in Nature Communications, will provide more information for designing future ferroelectric nanodevices.

“Our discovery is a significant scientific advance as it shows a clear view of how the ferroelectric degrading process is present at the nanoscale,” stated Professor Xiazhou Liao (also from the University of Sydney Nano Institute).

The study’s principal researcher Dr. Qianwei Huang said that although it is well-known that ferroelectric fatigue can reduce the life expectancy of electronic devices, it is not known how it happens. This was due to the lack of technology to monitor it.

The co-author, Dr. Zibin Chen, said, “With this, we hope to inform engineering devices with longer lives better.”

Herbert Kroemer, Nobel laureate, once said, “The interface is a device.” These observations by the Sydney researchers could spark a new debate about whether interfaces – physical boundaries that separate different regions in materials – are a viable solution for the reliability of next-generation devices.

“Our discovery suggests that interfaces can accelerate ferroelectric degrading.” Dr. Chen stated that it is essential to understand these processes better to improve the performance of devices.


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