Scientists at DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III and the London Centre for Nanotechnology, at University College London, have developed a new method for examining the astonishing properties of a special class of iridium oxides known as iridates. The team of principal author Pavel Alexeev, from the Dynamics Beamline P01 at PETRA III, is presenting the procedure in the journal Scientific Reports.
Many oxides belonging to certain groups of transition metals (chemical elements with an incomplete d electron shell) are known for their exotic magnetic and electronic properties. These can be attributed qualitatively to a range of interactions between the charge of the electrons, their magnetic moment, their localization within the crystals and their atomic orbitals. The relative strengths of the various interactions determine whether an oxide is magnetic, an insulator, an electrical conductor or even a superconductor. The so-called 4d and 5d transitions metals are particularly interesting in this respect.
The properties of many of these oxides can be specifically adjusted by applying external electric or magnetic fields, or exerting pressure on the material. This makes them interesting for numerous applications in micro- and nanoelectronics, for data storage and information processing. Such behaviour is particularly pronounced in the oxides of 5d transition metals, such as tantalum, tungsten, osmium and iridium. The oxides of iridium are especially remarkable because they lose their magnetisation when subjected to pressure, and even under normal conditions develop unexpected magnetic structures. Although some of their properties have been known for quite a while, efforts to explain this behaviour are still in their infancy. This makes it all the more important to develop methods that provide detailed insights into such materials.
A particularly suitable and extremely sensitive method of studying the electronic and magnetic properties of solids is nuclear resonant scattering (NRS) using synchrotron radiation. This method uses the nuclei of the atoms of certain isotopes as local probes for the material’s properties. In view of its numerous possible applications, specialised measuring stations have been set up for this purpose on the P01 beamline at PETRA III, which are used by many scientists from all over the world every year. Among other things, the method allows the orientation of atomic magnetic moments to be determined with great accuracy. NRS therefore complements other X-ray techniques and – in contrast to neutron techniques – makes it possible to study small samples, for example when used on samples subject to high pressure.
Image: Samples of strontium-iridium-trioxid crystals.
Credit: University College London, James Vale/Emily Hunter