Charge ordering - Bending and breaking of stripes

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In charge-ordered phases, broken translational symmetry emerges from couplings between charge, spin, lattice, or orbital degrees of freedom, giving rise to remarkable phenomena such as CMR and MIT. To understand the role of the lattice in charge-ordered states, we directly map picometer scale periodic lattice displacements at individual atomic columns in the room temperature charge-ordered manganite using aberration-corrected STEM.

We measure transverse, displacive lattice modulations of the cations, distinct from existing manganite charge-order models. We reveal locally unidirectional striped domains as small as ~5 nm, despite apparent bidirectionality over larger length scales. Further, we observe a direct link between disorder in one lattice modulation, in the form of dislocations and shear deformations, and nascent order in the perpendicular modulation. By examining the defects and symmetries of periodic lattice displacements near the charge ordering phase transition, we directly visualize the local competition underpinning spatial heterogeneity in a complex oxide.