Cationic Redistribution at Epitaxial Interfaces in Superconducting Two-Dimensionally Doped Lanthanum Cuprate Films

The exploration of interface effects in complex oxide heterostructures has led to the discovery of novel intriguing phenomena in recent years and has opened the path toward the precise tuning of material properties at the nanoscale. One recent example is space-charge superconductivity. Among the complex range of effects which may arise from phase interaction, a crucial role is played by cationic intermixing, which defines the final chemical composition of the interface. In this work, we performed a systematic study on the local cationic redistribution of two-dimensionally doped lanthanum cuprate films grown by oxide molecular beam epitaxy, in which single LaO layers in the epitaxial crystal structure were substituted by layers of differently sized and charged dopants (Ca, Sr, Ba, and Dy). In such a model system, in which the dopant undergoes an asymmetric redistribution across the interface, the evolution of the cationic concentration profile can be effectively tracked by means of atomically resolved imaging and spectroscopic methods. This allowed for the investigation of the impact of the dopant chemistry (ionic size and charge) and of the growth conditions (temperature) on the final superconducting and structural properties. A qualitative model for interface cationic intermixing, based on thermodynamic considerations, is proposed. This work highlights the key role which cationic redistribution may have in the definition of the final interface properties and represents a further step forward the realization of heterostructures with improved quality.