Real-time atomistic observation of structural phase transformations in individual hafnia nanorods.
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High-temperature phases of hafnium dioxide have exceptionally high dielectric constants and large bandgaps, but quenching them to room temperature remains a challenge. Scaling the bulk form to nanocrystals, while successful in stabilizing the tetragonal phase of isomorphous ZrO2, has produced nanorods with a twinned version of the room temperature monoclinic phase in HfO2. Here we use in situ heating in a scanning transmission electron microscope to observe the transformation of an HfO2 nanorod from monoclinic to tetragonal, with a transformation temperature suppressed by over 1000C from bulk. When the nanorod is annealed, we observe with atomic-scale resolution the transformation from twinned-monoclinic to tetragonal, starting at a twin boundary and propagating via coherent transformation dislocation; the nanorod is reduced to hafnium on cooling. Unlike the bulk displacive transition, nanoscale size-confinement enables us to manipulate the transformation mechanism, and we observe discrete nucleation events and sigmoidal nucleation and growth kinetics.