The understanding of the origin of a two-dimensional electron gas (2DEG) at the surface of anatase TiO2 remains a challenging issue. In particular, in TiO2 ultra-thin films, it is extremely difficult to distinguish intrinsic effects, due to the physics of the TiO2, from extrinsic effects, such as those arising from structural defects, dislocations, and the presence of competing phases at the film/substrate interface. It is, therefore, mandatory to unambiguously ascertain the structure of the TiO2/substrate interface. In this work, by combining high angle annular dark-field scanning transmission electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM), density functional theory calculations, and multislice image simulations, we have investigated the nature of strainless anatase TiO2 thin films grown on LaAlO3 substrate. In particular, the presence of oxygen vacancies in anatase TiO2 has been proved to stabilize the formation of an extra alloy layer, Ti2AlO4, by means of interface rearrangement. Our results, therefore, elucidate why the growth of anatase TiO2 directly on LaAlO3 substrate has required the deposition of a TiOx extra-layer to have a 2DEG established, thus confirming the absence of a critical thickness for the TiO2 to stabilize a 2DEG at its surface. These findings provide fundamental insights on the underlying formation mechanism of the 2DEG in TiO2/LAO hetero-interfaces to engineer the 2DEG formation in anatase TiO2 for tailored applications.
The properties of half-metallic manganite thin films depend on the composition and structure in the atomic scale, and consequently, their potential functional behavior can only be based on fine structure characterization. By combining advanced transmission electron microscopy, electron energy loss spectroscopy, density functional theory calculations, and multislice image simulations, we obtained evidence of a 7 nm-thick interface layer in La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 (LSMO) thin films, compatible with the formation of well-known dead layers in manganites, with an elongated out-of-plane lattice parameter and structural and electronic properties well distinguished from the bulk of the film. We observed, for the first time, a structural shift of Mn ions coupled with oxygen vacancies and a reduced Mn valence state within such layer. Understanding the correlation between oxygen vacancies, the Mn oxidation state, and Mn-ion displacements is a prerequisite to engineer the magnetotransport properties of LSMO thin films.
Oxygen vacancies are known to play a crucial role in tuning the physical properties and technological applications of titanium dioxide TiO2. Over the last decades, defects in substoichiometric TiO2 have been commonly associated with the formation of TinO2n–x Magnéli phases, which are extended planar defects originating from crystallographic shear planes. By combining advanced transmission electron microscopy techniques, electron energy-loss spectroscopy and atomistic simulations, we reach new understanding of the oxygen vacancy induced structural modulations in anatase, ruling out the earlier shear-plane model. Structural modulations are instead shown to be due to the formation of oxygen vacancy superstructures that extend periodically inside the films, preserving the crystalline order of anatase. Elucidating the structure of oxygen defects in anatase is a crucial step for improving the functionalities of such material system and to engineer devices with targeted properties.