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Crystalline substances which have a permanent spontaneous electric polarization (electric dipole moment per cubic centimeter) that can be reversed by an electric field. In a sense, ferroelectrics are the electrical analog of the ferromagnets, hence the name. The spontaneous polarization is the so-called order parameter of the ferroelectric state. The names Seignette-electrics or Rochelle-electrics, which are also widely used, are derived from the name of the first substance found to have this property, Seignette salt or Rochelle salt. See Ferromagnetism
From a practical standpoint ferroelectrics can be divided into two classes. In ferroelectrics of the first class, spontaneous polarization can occur only along one crystal axis; that is, the ferroelectric axis is already a unique axis when the material is in the paraelectric phase. Typical representatives of this class are Rochelle salt, monobasic potassium phosphate, ammonium sulfate, guanidine aluminum sulfate hexahydrate, glycine sulfate, colemanite, and thiourea.
In ferroelectrics of the second class, spontaneous polarization can occur along several axes that are equivalent in the paraelectric phase. The following substances belong to this class: barium(IV) titanate-type (or perovskite-type) ferroelectrics; cadmium niobate; lead niobate; certain alums, such as methyl ammonium alum; and ammonium cadmium sulfate.
From a scientific standpoint, one can distinguish proper ferroelectrics and improper ferroelectrics. In proper ferroelectrics, the structure change at the Curie temperature can be considered a consequence of the spontaneous polarization. In improper ferroelectrics, the spontaneous polarization can be considered a by-product of another structural phase transition. Examples of such systems are gadolinium molybdate and boracites.
The spontaneous polarization can occur in at least two equivalent crystal directions; thus, a ferroelectric crystal consists in general of regions of homogeneous polarization that differ only in the direction of polarization. These regions are called ferroelectric domains. Ferroelectrics of the first class consist of domains with parallel and antiparallel polarization, whereas ferroelectrics of the second class can assume much more complicated domain configurations. The region between two adjacent domains is called a domain wall. Within this wall, the spontaneous polarization changes its direction.
As a rule, the dielectric constant ε measured along a ferroelectric axis increases in the paraelectric phase when the Curie temperature is approached. In many ferroelectrics, this increase can be approximated by the Curie-Weiss law. See Curie-Weiss law
Ferroelectrics can be divided into two groups according to their piezoelectric behavior. The ferroelectrics in the first group are already piezoelectric in the unpolarized phase. Those piezoelectric moduli which relate stresses to polarization along the ferroelectric axis have essentially the same temperature dependence as the dielectric constant along this axis, and hence become very large near the Curie point. The spontaneous polarization gives rise to a large spontaneous piezoelectric strain which is proportional to the spontaneous polarization.
The ferroelectrics in the second group are not piezoelectric when they are in the paraelectric phase. However, the spontaneous polarization lowers the symmetry so that they become piezoelectric in the polarized phase. This piezoelectric activity is often hidden because the piezoelectric effects of the various domains can cancel. However, strong piezoelectric activity of a macroscopic crystal or even of a polycrystalline sample occurs when the domains have been aligned by an electric field. The spontaneous strain is proportional to the square of the spontaneous polarization. See Piezoelectricity
Antiferroelectric crystals are characterized by a phase transition from a state of lower symmetry (generally low-temperature phase) to a state of higher symmetry (generally high-temperature phase). The low-symmetry state can be regarded as a slightly distorted high-symmetry state. It has no permanent electric polarization, in contrast to ferroelectric crystals. The crystal lattice can be regarded as consisting of two interpenetrating sublattices with equal but opposite electric polarization. This state is referred to as the antipolarized state. In a certain sense, an antiferroelectric crystal is the electrical analog of an antiferromagnetic crystal.
The piezoelectric effect of ferroelectrics (and certain antiferroelectrics) finds numerous applications in electromechanical transducers. The large electrooptical effect (birefringence induced by an electric field) is used in light modulators. In certain ferroelectrics, light can induce changes of the refractive indices. These substances can be used for optical information storage and in real-time optical processors. The temperature dependence of the spontaneous polarization corresponds to a strong pyroelectric effect which can be exploited in thermal and infrared sensors.