By means of extensive first-principles calculations we studied the ferroelectric phase transition and the associated isotope effect in KH2PO4 (KDP). Our calculations revealed that the spontaneous polarization of the ferroelectric phase is due to electronic charge redistributions and ionic displacements which are a consequence of proton ordering, and not vice versa. The experimentally observed double-peaked proton distribution in the paraelectric phase cannot be explained by a dynamics of only protons. This requires, instead, collective displacements within clusters that include also the heavier ions. These tunneling clusters can explain the recent evidence of tunneling obtained from Compton scattering measurements. The sole effect of mass change upon deuteration is not sufficient to explain the huge isotope effect. Instead, we find that structural modifications deeply connected with the chemistry of the H bonds produce a feedback effect on tunneling that strongly enhances the phenomenon. The resulting influence of the geometric changes on the isotope effect agrees with experimental data from neutron scattering. Calculations under pressure allowed us to analyze the issue of universality in the disappearance of ferroelectricity upon compression. Compressing DKDP so that the distance between the two peaks in the deuteron distribution is the same as for protons in KDP, corresponds to a modification of the underlying double-well potential, which becomes 23 meV shallower. This energy difference is what is required to modify the O-O distance in such a way as to have the same distribution for protons and deuterons. At the high pressures required experimentally, the above feedback mechanism is crucial to explain the magnitude of the geometrical effect.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Condensed Matter Physics