Ferroelectric origin in one-dimensional undoped ZnO towards high electromechanical response†
Ferroelectricity in ZnO is an unlikely physical phenomenon. Here, we show ferroelectricity in undoped  ZnO nanorods due to zinc vacancies. Generation of ferroelectricity in a ZnO nanorod effectively increases its piezoelectricity and turns the ZnO nanorod into an ultrahigh-piezoelectric material. Here using piezoelectric force microscopy (PFM), it is observed that increasing the frequency of the AC excitation electric field decreases the effective d33. Subsequently, the existence of a reversible permanent electric dipole is also found from the P–E hysteresis loop of the ZnO nanorods. Under a high resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM), we observe a zinc blende stacking in the wurtzite stacking of a single nanorod along the growth axis. The zinc blende nature of this defect is also supported by the X-ray diffraction (XRD) and Raman spectra. The presence of zinc vacancies in this basal stacking fault modulates p–d hybridization of the ZnO nanorod and produces a magnetic moment through the adjacent oxygen ions. This in turn induces a reversible electric dipole in the non-centrosymmetric nanostructure and is responsible for the ultrahigh-piezoelectric response in these undoped ZnO nanorods. We reveal that this defect engineered ZnO can be considered to be in the competitive class of ultrahigh-piezoelectric nanomaterials for energy harvesting and electromechanical device fabrication.