Discovery of electric devil's staircase in perovskite antiferroelectric

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Science Advances


The devil's staircase, describing step-like function for two competing frequencies, is well known over a wide range of dynamic systems including Huyghens' clocks, Josephson junction, and chemical reaction. In condensed matter physics, the devil's staircase has been observed in spatially modulated structures, such as magnetic ordering. It draws widespread attentions because it plays a crucial role in the fascinating phenomena including phase-locking behaviors, commensurate-incommensurate phase transition, and spin-valve effect. Here, we report the observation of polymorphic phase transitions consisting of several steps in PbZrO3-based system-namely, electric devil's staircase-originated from competing ferroelectric and antiferroelectric interactions. We fully characterize a specific electric dipole configuration by decomposing this competitive interaction in terms of basic structure and modulation function. Of particular interest is that the occurrence of many degenerate electric dipole configurations in devil's staircase enables superior energy storage performance. These observations are of great significance for exploring more substantive magnetic-electric correspondence and engineering practical high-power antiferroelectric capacitors.

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