Research Papers in Physics and Astronomy


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T. H. KIM et al. PHYSICAL REVIEW B 101, 121105(R) (2020). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevB.101.121105


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Metal-to-insulator phase transitions in complex oxide thin films are exciting phenomena which may be useful for device applications, but in many cases the physical mechanism responsible for the transition is not fully understood. Here we demonstrate that epitaxial strain generates local disproportionation of the NiO6 octahedra, driven through changes in the oxygen stoichiometry, and that this directly modifies the metal-to-insulator phase transition in epitaxial (001) NdNiO3 thin films. Theoretically, we predict that the Ni-O-Ni bond angle decreases, while octahedral tilt and local disproportionation of the NiO6 octahedra increases resulting in a small band gap in an otherwise metallic system. This is driven by an increase in oxygen vacancy concentration in the rare-earth nickelates with increasing in-plane biaxial tensile strain. Experimentally, we find an increase in pseudocubic unit-cell volume and resistivity with increasing biaxial tensile strain, corroborating our theoretical predictions. With electron-energy-loss spectroscopy and x-ray absorption, we find a reduction of the Ni valence with increasing tensile strain. These results indicate that epitaxial strain modifies the oxygen stoichiometry of rare-earth perovskite thin films and through this mechanism affects the metal-to-insulator phase transition in these compounds.

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