Imaging microstructural dynamics and strain fields in electro-active materials in situ with dark field x-ray microscopy
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The electric-field-induced and temperature induced dynamics of domains, defects, and phases play an important role in determining the macroscopic functional response of ferroelectric and piezoelectric materials. However, distinguishing and quantifying these phenomena remains a persistent challenge that inhibits our understanding of the fundamental structure-property relationships. In situ dark field x-ray microscopy is a new experimental technique for the real space mapping of lattice strain and orientation in bulk materials. In this paper, we describe an apparatus and methodology for conducting in situ studies of thermally and electrically induced structural dynamics and demonstrate their use on ferroelectric BaTiO3 single crystals. The stable temperature and electric field apparatus enables simultaneous control of electric fields up to approximate to 2 kV/mm at temperatures up to 200 degrees C with a stability of Delta T = +/- 0.01 K and a ramp rate of up to 0.5 K/min. This capability facilitates studies of critical phenomena, such as phase transitions, which we observe via the microstructural change occurring during the electric-field-induced cubic to tetragonal phase transition in BaTiO3 at its Curie temperature. With such systematic control, we show how the growth of the polar phase front and its associated ferroelastic domains fall along unexpected directions and, after several cycles of electric field application, result in a non-reversible lattice strain at the electrode-crystal interface. These capabilities pave the way for new insights into the temperature and electric field dependent electromechanical transitions and the critical influence of subtle defects and interfaces.