The growth and improved magnetoelectric response of strain-modified Aurivillius SrBi4.25La0.75Ti4FeO18 thin films
In this study, we grew 5-layered SrBi4.25La0.75Ti4FeO18 (SBLFT) polycrystalline thin films (80–330 nm thick) via pulsed-laser deposition to study their ferroelectric and magnetoelectric response. Structural/microstructural analysis confirmed the formation of orthorhombic SBLFT with good crystallinity and randomly oriented Aurivillius phases. Detailed scanning transmission electron microscopy analysis of 120 nm film revealed a predominantly five-layered structure with the coexistence of four-layer stacking. Such stacking defects are found to be pertinent to the high structural flexibility of Bi-rich Aurivillius phases, alleviated by lattice strain. Raman spectral features at ambient temperatures depict the signature of the orthorhombic-tetragonal phase transition. SBLFT films have a strong ferroelectric nature (remanent polarization 2Pr of 35 μC cm−2) with a fatigue endurance up to 1010 cycles and strongly improved, switchable magnetization as opposed to its antiferromagnetic bulk counterpart. The scaling behavior of dynamic hysteresis reveals that ferroelectric domain reversal has good stability and low energy consumption. We observed the presence of SBLFT nanoregions (1–5 nm), distributed across the film, with Bi and Fe-rich compositions and oxygen vacancies that contribute to the weak ferromagnetic behavior mediated by the Dzyaloshinskii–Moriya interactions. Subtle changes in the structural strain and lattice distortions of thin films with varied thicknesses led to distinct ferroic properties. Stronger ferroelectric polarization of 80 nm and 120 nm films compared to that of thicker ones can be due to structural strain and the possible rearrangement of BO6 octahedra. The observation of the improved magnetoelectric coefficient of 50 mV cm−1 Oe−1 for 120 nm film, as compared to that of several Aurivillius oxides, indicates that the structural strain modification in SBLFT is beneficial for the fatigue-free magnetic field switching of ferroelectric polarization. The structural strain of the unit cell as well as the presence of Bi- and ferromagnetic Fe-rich nanoregions was found to be responsible for the improved multiferroic behaviour of the SBLFT films.