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Emergence of high piezoelectricity from competing local polar order-disorder in relaxor ferroelectrics

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Nature Communications
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Relaxor ferroelectrics are known for outstanding piezoelectric properties, finding a broad range of applications in advanced electromechanical devices. Decoding the origins of the enhanced properties, however, have long been complicated by the heterogeneous local structures. Here, we employ the advanced big-box refinement method by fitting neutron-, X-ray-based total scattering, and X-ray absorption spectrum simultaneously, to extract local atomic polar displacements and construct 3D polar configurations in the classical relaxor ferroelectric Pb(Mg1/3Nb2/3)O3–PbTiO3. Our results demonstrate that prevailing order-disorder character accompanied by the continuous rotation of local polar displacements commands the composition-driven global structure evolution. The omnidirectional local polar disordering appears as an indication of macroscopic relaxor characteristics. Combined with phase-field simulations, it demonstrates that the competing local polar order-disorder between different states with balanced local polar length and direction randomness leads to a flattening free-energy profile over a wide polar length, thus giving rise to high piezoelectricity. Our work clarifies that the critical structural feature required for high piezoelectricity is the competition states of local polar rather than relaxor.