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Discovering Hidden Order in Disordered Crystals( Press Release )

Release Date
27 Apr, 2023
  • BL02B2 (Powder Diffraction)
  • BL19B2 (X-ray Diffraction and Scattering II)
New Material Analysis Method Combining Resonant X-Ray Diffraction and Solid-State NMR

April 27, 2023

Researchers at Tokyo Tech have discovered hidden chemical order of the Mo and Nb atoms in disordered Ba7Nb4MoO20, by combining state-of-the-art techniques, including resonant X-ray diffraction and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance. This study provides valuable insights into how a material’s properties, such as ionic conduction, can be heavily influenced by its hidden chemical order. These results would stimulate significant advances in materials science and engineering.

Journal: Nature Communications
Title: Hidden chemical order in disordered Ba7Nb4MoO20 revealed by resonant X-ray diffraction and solid-state NMR
Authors: Yuta Yasui1 Masataka Tansho2, Kotaro Fujii1, Yuichi Sakuda1, Atsushi Goto2, Shinobu Ohki2, Yuuki Mogami2, Takahiro Iijima3, Shintaro Kobayashi4, Shogo Kawaguchi4, Keiichi Osaka5, Kazutaka Ikeda6,7,8, Toshiya Otomo6,7,8,9, Masatomo Yashima1*
* Corresponding author
1 Department of Chemistry, School of Science, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-1-W4-17, O-okayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 152-8551, Japan.
2 NMR Station, National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), 3-13 Sakura, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0003, Japan.
3 Institute of Arts and Sciences, Yamagata University, 1-4-12 Kojirakawa-machi, Yamagata, Yamagata 990-8560, Japan.
4 Diffraction and Scattering Division, Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (JASRI), SPring-8, 1-1-1 Kouto, Sayo-cho, Sayo-gun, Hyogo 679-5198, Japan.
5 Industrial Application and Partnership Division, Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (JASRI), SPring-8, 1-1-1 Kouto, Sayo-cho, Sayo-gun, Hyogo 679-5198, Japan.
6 Institute of Materials Structure Science, High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), 203-1 Shirakata, Tokai, Ibaraki 319-1106, Japan.
7 J-PARC Center, High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), 2-4 Shirakata-Shirane, Tokai, Ibaraki 319-1106, Japan.
8 School of High Energy Accelerator Science, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, 203-1 Shirakata, Tokai, Ibaraki 319-1106, Japan.
9 Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Ibaraki University, 162-1 Shirakata, Tokai, Ibaraki 319-1106, Japan.

Determining the precise structure of a crystalline solid is a challenging endeavor. Materials properties such as ion conduction and chemical stability, are heavily influenced by the chemical (occupational) order and disorder. However, the techniques that scientists typically use to elucidate unknown crystal structures suffer from serious limitations.

For instance, X-ray and neutron diffraction methods are powerful techniques to reveal the atomic positions and arrangement in the crystal lattice. However, they may not be adequate for distinguishing different atomic species with similar X-ray scattering factors and similar neutron scattering lengths.

To tackle this issue, a research team led by Professor Masatomo Yashima of Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) in Japan sought to develop a novel and more powerful approach to analyze the order and disorder in crystals. They combined four different techniques to analyze the crystal structure of an important ionic conductor, Ba7Nb4MoO20. “We chose Ba7Nb4MoO20 as Ba7Nb4MoO20-based oxides and related compounds are a class of emerging materials with interesting properties such as high ionic conduction and high chemical stability,” explains Prof. Yashima. “However, given that both the Mo6+ and Nb5+ cations have similar scattering powers, all structural analyses of Ba7Nb4MoO20 until now have been performed assuming complete Mo/Nb disorder.”

As described in their recent paper published in Nature Communications, the researchers used an approach that combined two experimental techniques, resonant X-ray diffraction (RXRD) and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) aided by computational calculations based on density functional theory (DFT). The NMR provided direct experimental evidence that the Mo atoms occupy only the crystallographic M2 site in Ba7Nb4MoO20, indicating the chemical order of Mo atoms.

Next, the researchers used RXRD to quantify the occupancy factors of Mo and Nb atoms. They found that the occupancy factor of Mo atoms was 0.5 at the M2 site but zero at all other sites. Interestingly, the M2 site is close to the oxide-ion conducting, oxygen-deficient layer of Ba7Nb4MoO20. This suggests that the Mo atoms at the M2 site have key role in the high ion conduction of Ba7Nb4MoO20. Furthermore, DFT calculations indicated that the Mo ordering stabilizes Mo excess composition exhibiting high ionic conductivity. Positions, occupancy, and atomic displacements of protons and oxide ions were also determined by neutron diffraction.

“Our results demonstrate that the Mo order affects the material properties of Ba7Nb4MoO20,” highlights Prof. Yashima. “In this regard, our work represents a major advance in our understanding of the correlation between the crystal structure and the material properties of ionic conductors.” Further, in contrast to single-crystal X-ray and neutron diffraction, the proposed approach can even be extended to other polycrystalline and powdered samples.

Overall, the methodology presented in this study can open up new avenues for an in-depth analysis of chemical order/disorder in materials. In turn, this could lead to the development of physics, chemistry, and materials science and technology.

Only time will tell what other hidden orders and disorders we will stumble upon!


About Tokyo Institute of Technology
Tokyo Tech stands at the forefront of research and higher education as the leading university for science and technology in Japan. Tokyo Tech researchers excel in fields ranging from materials science to biology, computer science, and physics. Founded in 1881, Tokyo Tech hosts over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students per year, who develop into scientific leaders and some of the most sought-after engineers in industry. Embodying the Japanese philosophy of “monotsukuri,” meaning “technical ingenuity and innovation,” the Tokyo Tech community strives to contribute to society through high-impact research.


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