Atomic-scale imaging of individual dopant atoms in a buried interface

Nat Mater. 2009 Aug;8(8):654-8. doi: 10.1038/nmat2486. Epub 2009 Jun 21.


Determining the atomic structure of internal interfaces in materials and devices is critical to understanding their functional properties. Interfacial doping is one promising technique for controlling interfacial properties at the atomic scale, but it is still a major challenge to directly characterize individual dopant atoms within buried crystalline interfaces. Here, we demonstrate atomic-scale plan-view observation of a buried crystalline interface (an yttrium-doped alumina high-angle grain boundary) using aberration-corrected Z-contrast scanning transmission electron microscopy. The focused electron beam transmitted through the off-axis crystals clearly highlights the individual yttrium atoms located on the monoatomic layer interface plane. Not only is their unique two-dimensional ordered positioning directly revealed with atomic precision, but local disordering at the single-atom level, which has never been detected by the conventional approaches, is also uncovered. The ability to directly probe individual atoms within buried interface structures adds new dimensions to the atomic-scale characterization of internal interfaces and other defect structures in many advanced materials and devices.