Moiré superlattices in van der Waals heterostructures have given rise to a number of emergent electronic phenomena due to the interplay between atomic structure and electron correlations. Indeed, electrons in these structures have been recently found to exhibit a number of emergent properties that the individual layers themselves do not exhibit.
This includes superconductivity1,2, magnetism3, topological edge states4,5, exciton trapping6 and correlated insulator phases7. However, the lack of a straightforward technique to characterize the local structure of moiré superlattices has thus far impeded progress in the field. In this work we describe a simple, room-temperature, ambient method to visualize real-space moiré superlattices with sub-5-nm spatial resolution in a variety of twisted van der Waals heterostructures including, but not limited to, conducting graphene, insulating boron nitride and semiconducting transition metal dichalcogenides. Our method uses piezoresponse force microscopy, an atomic force microscope modality that locally measures electromechanical surface deformation. We find that all moiré superlattices, regardless of whether the constituent layers have inversion symmetry, exhibit a mechanical response to out-of-plane electric fields. This response is closely tied to flexoelectricity wherein electric polarization and electromechanical response is induced through strain gradients present within moiré superlattices. Therefore, moiré superlattices of two-dimensional materials manifest themselves as an interlinked network of polarized domain walls in a non-polar background matrix.
Visualization of moiré superlattices
Leo J. McGilly, Alexander Kerelsky, Nathan R. Finney, Konstantin Shapovalov, En-Min Shih, Augusto Ghiotto, Yihang Zeng, Samuel L. Moore, Wenjing Wu, Yusong Bai, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, Massimiliano Stengel, Lin Zhou, James Hone, Xiaoyang Zhu, Dmitri N. Basov, Cory Dean, Cyrus E. Dreyer & Abhay N. Pasupathy.
Nature Nanotechnology,15, 580–584 (2020)