Research Papers in Physics and Astronomy


Date of this Version



Nature Communications 10, 537 (2019).
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-08462-0


Copyright 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG. Used by permission.


Flexoelectricity is a universal electromechanical coupling effect whereby all dielectric materials polarise in response to strain gradients. In particular, nanoscale flexoelectricity promises exotic phenomena and functions, but reliable characterisation methods are required to unlock its potential. Here, we report anomalous mechanical control of quantum tunnelling that allows for characterising nanoscale flexoelectricity. By applying strain gradients with an atomic force microscope tip, we systematically polarise an ultrathin film of otherwise nonpolar SrTiO3, and simultaneously measure tunnel current across it. The measured tunnel current exhibits critical behaviour as a function of strain gradients, which manifests large modification of tunnel barrier profiles via flexoelectricity. Further analysis of this critical behaviour reveals significantly enhanced flexocoupling strength in ultrathin SrTiO3, compared to that in bulk, rendering flexoelectricity more potent at the nanoscale. Our study not only suggests possible applications exploiting dynamic mechanical control of quantum effect, but also paves the way to characterise nanoscale flexoelectricity.