Simon Billinge, a researcher with a joint appointment at Columbia University and the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Sverre Magnus Selbach co-led an experiment recently at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Spallation Neutron Source to study an unusual symmetry in a multiferroic material.

Shown here are Emil Bozin (standing, left) from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Sandra Skjærvø and Sverre Magnus Selbach (both seated) from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Billinge (standing, right) reviewing real time data at the NOMAD instrument hutch, SNS beam line 1B. Not pictured is Nicola Spaldin, the team’s theory collaborator from ETH Zürich in Switzerland.

Understanding the local structure of the group’s specific multiferroic material as it passes through a series of structural and magnetic phase transitions is fundamental in potential applications, such as memory storage devices. Using neutron diffraction and total scattering, the team worked to understand the relationship between the local atomic structure at the material’s cell-tripling phase transition at ~1300 K and the concomitant appearance of ferroelectric domains and topological defects. The neutron measurements will be combined with optical imaging experiments of the ferroelectric domains and property measurements to understand the microscopic nature of the phase transition.

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