A study of the ferroelectric properties of neutron irradiated lead zirconate titanate



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Lead zirconate titantate (PZT) is an electroceramic material with many important technological applications in sensing and computer memory. Some of these applications require the PZT based devices to operate in radiation fields where they will be exposed to a high flux of energetic, heavy and light, charged and uncharged particles. The risk to any device exposed to ionizing radiation is the accumulation of displacement and ionization damage. Significant damage accumulation over time can lead to property drifts and, in some cases, failure of the device to perform properly. The goal of the undertaking recounted in this dissertation was to study changes in the ferroelectric properties of PZT exposed to the neutron field of a research nuclear reactor and to help develop an understanding for the type of radiation induced defects that play a dominant role in the degradation process. Thin film PZT capacitors were prepared using a wet chemical technique. The capacitors were then irradiated in a 1 MW TRIGA research nuclear reactor at the University of Texas at Austin up to a maximum 1 MeV equivalent neutron flux of 5.2 x 10¹⁵ cm⁻². Following irradiation, electronic characterization of polarization-electric field hysteresis loops, first order reversal curves, and small-signal permittivity were performed to ascertain tendencies between irradiation dose and ferroelectric properties. The measurements indicate a drop in remanent polarization, a loss of domain wall mobility, shifts in local switching fields and the formation of dipolar defects. These effects are all attributed to the introduction of defects into the material through displacement damage cascades. Numerical models of the damage cascades were performed to determine the displacement concentration. Comparison of those values and the primary recoil spectrum with typical survival rates found in the literature suggest that both free point defects as well as defect clusters are produced in comparable if not larger concentrations. It is proposed that defect clusters play a more significant role in ferroelectric property change than previously believed.