Michael Susner2 Michael McGuire1 Petro Maksymovych1

2, Air Force Research Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, United States
1, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, United States

Recently, the family of van-der-Waals layered transition metal thiophosphates –exhibiting ferroelecric, antiferromagnetic and correlated electron ground states – have gained attention as possible control dielectrics for the rapidly growing family of 2D and quasi-2D electronic materials [1]. Being van-der-Waals crystals, the surfaces of these materials can be created without dangling bonds, unlike those of complex oxides. Yet, because of robust insulating properties, the structure of their surfaces, the role of disorder, the structure of the topological defects in the order parameter and many other properties directly relevant to their prospective interfaces is almost entirely unknown.
Here we present the first atomically resolved imaging of CuScP2S6 s carried out using cryogenic non-contact atomic force microscopy. The surface exhibits good crystalline ordering at the atomic scale, revealing contrast on sub-unit cell level. The most remarkable property is long-range commensurate modulation of the surface morphology, with a topographic amplitude of only 2-3 pm. Combined with XRD analysis of the bulk and Monte-Carlo simulation of the Ising model on triangular lattice, we propose that the modulation arises from antiferroelectric polarization domains, albeit with frustrated long-range order. The key structural ingredient for this state is centrosymmetric position of Sc3+ within the layer, which forces the surrounding displacing Cu+1 ions to adopt a frustrated antiferroelectric state - in direct analogy frustrated magnetic systems. We will further discuss the peculiarities of nc-AFM imaging of this materials from the statistical analysis of the variation of images between scan, as well as the force-distance curve arrays. The possibility to directly visualize polar order opens broad opportunities to understand the atomistic aspect of ferroelectric, glassy and incommensurate phases in this material class, beginning with CuInP2S6 – which exhibits Curie temperature ~315K and giant negative electrostriction [2]. More generally, non contact atomic force microscopy promises to resolve structural and defect properties of 2D materials particularly those with large band-gaps or isolated from electrical contacts. Research was sponsored by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, for the U. S. Department of Energy. Microscopy experiments were conducted at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, which is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.
[1] Susner Michael A., Chyasnavichyus Marius, McGuire Michael A., Ganesh Panchapakesan, and Maksymovych Petro, Advanced Materials 29, 1602852 (2017).
[2] S. M. Neumayer, E. A. Eliseev, M. A. Susner, A. Tselev, B. J. Rodriguez, S. Jesse, S. V. Kalinin, M. A. McGuire, A. N. Morozovska, P. Maksymovych, and N. Balke, ArXiv:1803.08142 [Cond-Mat] (2018).