Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Inna Ponomareva, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pritish Mukherjee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lilia Woods, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarath Witanachchi, Ph.D.


Physics, Ferroelectric, Perovskite, Films, Antiferroelectric


Ferroelectric and antiferroelectric ultrathin films have attracted a lot of attention recently due to their remarkable properties and their potential to allow for device miniaturization in numerous applications. However, when the ferroelectric films are scaled down, it brings about an unavoidable depolarizing field. A partial surface charge compensation allows to control the residual depolarizing field and manipulate the properties of ultrathin ferroelectric films. In this dissertation we take advantage of atomistic first-principles-based simulations to expand our understanding of the role of the partial surface charge compensation in the properties of ferroelectric and antiferroelectric ultrathin films.

The application of our computational methodology to study the effect of the partial surface charge compensation in ferroelectric ultrathin films led to the prediction that, depending on the quality of the surface charge compensation, ferroelectric thin films respond to an electric field in a qualitatively different manner. They can be tuned to behave like a linear dielectric, a ferroelectric or even an antiferroelectric. This effect was shown to exist in films with different mechanical boundary conditions and different crystal symmetries. There are a number of potential applications where such properties of ferroelectric thin films can be used. One of these potential applications is energy storage. We will show that, in the antiferroelectric regime, ferroelectric thin films exhibit drastic enhancement of energy storage density which is a desirable property.

One of the most promising applications of ferroelectric ultrathin films that emerged only recently is the harvesting of the giant electrocaloric effect. Interestingly, despite numerous studies of the electrocaloric effect in ferroelectric thin films, it is presently unknown how a residual depolarizing field affects the electrocaloric properties of such films. Application of state-of-the-art computational methods to investigate the electrocaloric effect in ferroelectric films with partial surface charge compensation led to the prediction that the residual depolarizing field can perform a dual role in the electrocaloric effect in these films. When the depolarizing field creates competition between the monodomain and nanodomain states, we predict an enhancement of the electrocaloric effect due to the frustration that increases the entropy of the state and therefore the electrocaloric temperature change. On the other hand, when the depolarizing field leads to a formation of nanodomains, thin films either exhibit a small electrocaloric effect or lose their electrocaloric properties altogether to the irreversible nanodomain motion. When the residual depolarizing field is weak enough to permit the formation of monodomain phases, the electrocaloric effect is significantly reduced as compared to bulk. We believe that our findings could potentially reveal additional opportunities to optimize solid state cooling technology.

While the electrocaloric effect has been a popular topic of interest in recent years [12], there still exists numerous gaps in the fundamental understanding of the effect. In particular, it is presently unknown whether the scaling laws, known to exist for magnetocaloric materials, can be applied to ferroelectric and antiferroelectric electrocalorics. We predict the existence of scaling laws for low-field electrocaloric temperature change in antiferroelectric and ferroelectric materials. With the help of first-principles-based simulations, we showed computationally that the scaling laws exist for antiferroelectric PbZrO3 along with ferroelectrics PbTiO3, BaTiO3 and KNbO3. Additional evidence of the scaling laws existence are provided using experimental data from the literature.

Interestingly, our studies on ferroelectric films predicted the existence of antiferroelectric behavior in ultrathin films with partial surface charge compensation. One may wonder whether it is possible to stabilize the ferroelectric phase in antiferroelectric films and what role the surface charge screening would play in such a transition. Motivated to address these fundamental questions, we used computational experiments to study antiferroelectric ultrathin films with a residual depolarizing field. Our studies led to the following predictions. We found that PbZrO3 thin films exhibit the ferroelectric phase upon scaling down and under the condition of efficient surface charge compensation. We also found a strong competition between the antiferroelectric and ferroelectric phases for the thin films of the critical size associated with antiferroelectric-ferroelectric phase transition. This finding motivated us to study the electrocaloric effect in PbZrO3 thin films with antiferroelectric-ferroelectric phase competition. We found that high tunability of the phase transition by the electric field leads to a wide range of temperatures associated with a strong electrocaloric effect. In addition, we found that epitaxial strain provides further tunability to the electrocaloric properties.

In summary, our studies led to a broader and deeper understanding of the abundantly many roles surface charge compensation plays in ultrathin ferroelectrics and antiferroelectrics.

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