Voltage-Induced Rearrangements in Atomic-Size Contacts

M Ring and D Weber and P Haiber and F Pauly and P Nielaba and E Scheer, NANO LETTERS, 20, 5773-5778 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.0c01597

We study voltage-induced conductance changes of Pb, Au, AI, and Cu atomic contacts. The experiments are performed in vacuum at low temperature using mechanically controllable break junctions. We determine switching histograms, i.e., distribution functions of switching voltages and switching currents, as a function of the conductance. We observe a clear material dependence: Au reveals the highest and almost conductance-independent switching voltage, while Al has the lowest with a pronounced dependence on the conductance. The theoretical study uses density functional theory and a generalized Langevin equation considering the pumping of particular phonon modes. We identify a runaway voltage as the threshold at which the pumping destabilizes the atomic arrangement. We find qualitative agreement between the average switching voltage and the runaway voltage regarding the material and conductance dependence and contact-to-contact variation of the average characteristic voltages, suggesting that the phonon pumping is a relevant mechanism driving the rearrangements in the experimental contacts.

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