The discovery of ultrahigh piezoelectricity in relaxor-ferroelectric solid solution single crystals is a breakthrough in ferroelectric materials. A key signature of relaxor-ferroelectric solid solutions is the existence of polar nanoregions, a nanoscale inhomogeneity, that coexist with normal ferroelectric domains. Despite two decades of extensive studies, the contribution of polar nanoregions to the underlying piezoelectric properties of relaxor ferroelectrics has yet to be established. Here we quantitatively characterize the contribution of polar nanoregions to the dielectric/piezoelectric responses of relaxor-ferroelectric crystals using a combination of cryogenic experiments and phase-field simulations. The contribution of polar nanoregions to the room-temperature dielectric and piezoelectric properties is in the range of 50-80%. A mesoscale mechanism is proposed to reveal the origin of the high piezoelectricity in relaxor ferroelectrics, where the polar nanoregions aligned in a ferroelectric matrix can facilitate polarization rotation. This mechanism emphasizes the critical role of local structure on the macroscopic properties of ferroelectric materials.
Li, F., Zhang, S., Yang, T., Xu, Z., Zhang, N., Liu, G., … Chen, L. Q. (2016). The origin of ultrahigh piezoelectricity in relaxor-ferroelectric solid solution crystals. Nature Communications, 7. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms13807