Microscopic Mechanisms of Glasslike Lattice Thermal Transport in Cubic Cu12Sb4 S13 Tetrahedrites

Yi Xia, Vidvuds Ozoliņš, Chris Wolverton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Materials based on cubic tetrahedrites (Cu12Sb4S13) are useful thermoelectrics with unusual thermal and electrical transport properties, such as very low and nearly temperature-independent lattice thermal conductivity (κL). We explain the microscopic origin of the glasslike κL in Cu12Sb4S13 by explicitly treating anharmonicity up to quartic terms for both phonon energies and phonon scattering rates. We show that the strongly unstable phonon modes associated with trigonally coordinated Cu atoms are anharmonically stabilized above approximately 100 K and continue hardening with increasing temperature in accord with experimental data. This temperature-induced hardening effect reduces scattering of heat carrying acoustic modes by reducing the available phase space for three-phonon processes, thereby balancing the conventional ∝T increase in scattering due to phonon population and yielding nearly temperature-independent κL. Furthermore, we find that very strong phonon broadening leads to a qualitative breakdown of the conventional phonon-gas model and modify the dominant heat transport mechanism from the particlelike phonon wave packet propagation to incoherent contributions described by the off-diagonal terms in the heat-flux operator, which are typically prevailing in glasses and disordered crystals. Our work paves the way to a deeper understanding of glasslike thermal conductivity in complex crystals with strong anharmonicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number085901
JournalPhysical review letters
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 21 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Microscopic Mechanisms of Glasslike Lattice Thermal Transport in Cubic Cu12Sb4 S13 Tetrahedrites'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this