Metaelectric multiphase transitions in a highly polarizable molecular crystal†
Metaelectric transition, i.e. an abrupt increase in polarization with an electric field is just a phase change phenomenon in dielectrics and attracts increasing interest for practical applications such as electrical energy storage and highly deformable transducers. Here we demonstrate that both field-induced metaelectric transitions and temperature-induced phase transitions occur successively on a crystal of highly polarizable bis-(1H-benzimidazol-2-yl)-methane (BI2C) molecules. In each molecule, two switchable polar subunits are covalently linked with each other. By changing the NH hydrogen location, the low- and high-dipole states of each molecule can be interconverted, turning on and off the polarization of hydrogen-bonded molecular ribbons. In the low-temperature phase III, the tetragonal crystal lattice comprises orthogonally crossed arrays of polar ribbons made up of a ladder-like hydrogen-bond network of fully polarized molecules. The single-step metaelectric transition from this phase III corresponds to the forced alignment of antiparallel dipoles typical of antiferroelectrics. By the transition to the intermediate-temperature phase II, the polarity is turned off for half of the ribbons so that the nonpolar and polar ribbons are orthogonal to each other. Considering also the ferroelastic-like crystal twinning, the doubled steps of metaelectric transitions observed in the phase II can be explained by the additional switching at different critical fields, by which the nonpolar ribbons undergo “metadielectric” molecular transformation restoring the strong polarization. This mechanism inevitably brings about exotic phase change phenomena transforming the multi-domain state of a homogeneous phase into an inhomogeneous (phase mixture) state.