Artificial charge-modulationin atomic-scale perovskite titanate superlattices

Nature. 2002 Sep 26;419(6905):378-80. doi: 10.1038/nature00977.


The nature and length scales of charge screening in complex oxides are fundamental to a wide range of systems, spanning ceramic voltage-dependent resistors (varistors), oxide tunnel junctions and charge ordering in mixed-valence compounds. There are wide variations in the degree of charge disproportionation, length scale, and orientation in the mixed-valence compounds: these have been the subject of intense theoretical study, but little is known about the microscopic electronic structure. Here we have fabricated an idealized structure to examine these issues by growing atomically abrupt layers of LaTi(3+)O(3) embedded in SrTi(4+)O(3). Using an atomic-scale electron beam, we have observed the spatial distribution of the extra electron on the titanium sites. This distribution results in metallic conductivity, even though the superlattice structure is based on two insulators. Despite the chemical abruptness of the interfaces, we find that a minimum thickness of five LaTiO(3) layers is required for the centre titanium site to recover bulk-like electronic properties. This represents a framework within which the short-length-scale electronic response can be probed and incorporated in thin-film oxide heterostructures.