Measurements of the structure of hexagonal RMnO3 [R = rare earths (Ho) and Y] for temperatures significantly above the ferroelectric transition temperature (TFE) were conducted to determine the nature of the transition. The local and long range structural measurements were complemented by ab initio molecular dynamics simulations. With respect to the Mn sites in YMnO3 and HoMnO3, we find no large atomic (bond distances or thermal factors), electronic structure changes, or rehybridization on crossing TFE from local structural methods. The local symmetry about the Mn sites is preserved. With respect to the local structure about the Ho sites, a reduction of the average Ho–O bond with increased temperature is found. Ab initio molecular dynamics calculations on HoMnO3 reveal the detailed motions of all ions. Above ∼900 K there are large displacements of the Ho, O3, and O4 ions along the z axis which reduce the buckling of the MnO3/O4 planes. The changes result in O3/O4 ions moving to toward central points between pairs of Ho ions on the z axis. These structural changes make the coordination of Ho sites more symmetric thus extinguishing the electric polarization. At significantly higher temperatures, rotation of the MnO5 polyhedra occurs without a significant change in electric polarization. The Born effective charge tensor is found to be highly anisotropic at the O sites but does not change appreciably at high temperatures.

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