The origin of antiferroelectricity in PbZrO3
Antiferroelectrics are essential ingredients for the widely applied piezoelectric and ferroelectric materials: the most common ferroelectric, lead zirconate titanate is an alloy of the ferroelectric lead titanate and the antiferroelectric lead zirconate. Antiferroelectrics themselves are useful in large digital displacement transducers and energy-storage capacitors. Despite their technological importance, the reason why materials become antiferroelectric has remained allusive since their first discovery. Here we report the results of a study on the lattice dynamics of the antiferroelectric lead zirconate using inelastic and diffuse X-ray scattering techniques and the Brillouin light scattering. The analysis of the results reveals that the antiferroelectric state is a 'missed' incommensurate phase, and that the paraelectric to antiferroelectric phase transition is driven by the softening of a single lattice mode via flexoelectric coupling. These findings resolve the mystery of the origin of antiferroelectricity in lead zirconate and suggest an approach to the treatment of complex phase transitions in ferroics.