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Using the generalized Ginzburg-Landau-Devonshire theory, the characteristics of phase transformation of a ferroelectric thin film with surface layers are investigated. We study the effect of the surface layer on the properties (coercive field, critical thickness) of a ferroelectric thin film. Our theoretical results show that the surface layer is likely to answer for the emergence of phase transformation.

With the development of the modern experiment techniques and extensive application of the ferroelectric materials in nonvolatile random access memories, ultraminiaturized electronics and nanotechnologies, characteristics of phase transformation in ferroelectric materials have aroused great interest [1,2]. Physical properties of ferroelectric thin films, such as their phase transformation characteristics, are significantly different from those of bulk ferroelectrics because of many factors including interfacial stress, defects and impurities near the surface region, electrode and substrate used. Ferroelectric thin films are also controlled via such factors [3-5]. Much work has been done on the phase transformation of a ferroelectric thin film. Experimentally, Raman scattering observations in epitaxial barium strontium titanate films on (001) MgO show that the ferroelectric phase transformation shift to higher temperatures and paraelectric phase has tetragonal symmetry [6,7]. The phase transformation was electrically investigated by Kato et al. in (100)-oriented BaTiO_{3} thin and thick films deposited on Si substrate using double alkoxide solutions. They indicated that the transition from paraelectric to ferroelectric phase takes place around at 100˚C instead of 130˚C for single crystals through the changes of the dielectric constant as a function of temperature in the range of −200˚C - 200˚C [_{0.7}Sr_{0.3}TiO_{3} thin films grown by liquid-source metalorganic chemical vapor deposition [_{3} using a first-principles effective Hamiltonian in classical molecular dynamics simulations [

It is well known that the state in the vicinity of the surface of a film is different from that inside the film. The larger ratio of surface layer to volume makes the surface effects more pronounced in thinner ferroelectric films. T. Lü and W. Cao considered that the inhomogeneous polarization distribution in a ferroelectric thin film origins from this effect of surface layer [

In this paper, based on the idea of [

The configuration of a ferroelectric thin film with two surface layers between two metallic electrodes in shortcircuit conditions is illustrated in

We assume that the easy polar axis of the film along the z direction is perpendicular to the film surface and the film is in single domain. The properties of the film are homogeneous in planes parallel to the surface of the film and the variation happens only along the film thickness. Taking into account the role of the surface layer is different from the bulk, so we introduce a second power of polarization in the GLD free energy and assume its coefficient to be a function of position in order to reflect the contribution of the surface layers [

Here is the free energy of film in the paraelectric phase. The coefficients A, B, C, and K are independent of temperature T and position z; T_{0} is the transformation temperature of the bulk ferroelectric; E is an applied uniform external electric field. The depolarization field produced by bound polar charges in a ferroelectric thin film that is not being screened by the surface electrodes [

The function in Equation (1) reflects the surface layer effect. In order to ensure the continuity of P(z) and its derivative, we require and

, where is the boundary position of lower (upper) surface layer in the film (see

When the system is in equilibrium state,. Consequently, the Euler—Lagrange equations resulting from Equation (1) are:

It is convenient to readjust the variables into dimen-

sionless forms. We set, with, with, with, with. Finally, Equations (3a,b) become:

where, and.

Parameter is the specific value of the Curie constant to Curie temperature of the bulk material. Considering practical examples of second-order phase transition materials (the Curie constant ~10^{3} and the Curie temperature ~10^{2}K) we take as a representative value.

Since there are no real measured data available on the effects of the surface layer, a simple form is chosen for the distribution function. This peculiar choice of the does not affect the generality of the results and conclusions [

where reflects the variation intensity of the free energy density in lower (upper) surface layer. We denote the relative thickness of the two surface layers in a ferroelectric thin film with and

, respectively, where,. For simplicity, the two surface layers are assumed symmetric, namely, , ,.

The phase diagram of and the relative thickness of the surface layer is shown in

behind this trend is that whether fix the thickness of a film or the surface layer, the emergence of the phase transformation is attributed to the large ratio of the surface layer to the volume of film. Moreover, with decreasing, the zone of ferroelectric phase shrinks and paraelectric phase augments. It is worth emphasizing that in the line every point represents a critical size of a ferroelectric thin film. As the thickness of surface layer increases or reduces, the critical size of a film increases, in other words, the ferroelectric phase remains stable only at a thicker thickness with the stronger effect of surface layer.

In summary, based on the generalized GLD theory, the characteristics of phase transformation of a ferroelectric thin film with surface layers has been studied. The characteristics of phase transformation sensitively depend on the effect of two factors (and) of surface layer. The results also show that the coercive field decreases and critical size increases with reducing or increasing the thickness of surface layer.