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Extreme phonon anharmonicity underpins superionic diffusion and ultralow thermal conductivity in argyrodite Ag$$_{8}$$SnSe$$_{6}$$

Ren, Q.*; Gupta, M. K.*; Jin, M.*; Ding, J.*; Wu, J.*; Chen, Z.*; Lin, S.*; Fabelo, O.*; Rodriguez-Velamazan, J. A.*; Kofu, Maiko   ; Nakajima, Kenji  ; Wolf, M.*; Zhu, F.*; Wang, J.*; Chen, Z.*; Wang, G.*; Tong, X.*; Pei, Y.*; Delaire, O.*; Ma, J.*

Ultralow thermal conductivity and fast ionic diffusion endow superionic materials with excellent performance both as thermoelectric converters and as solid-state electrolytes. Yet the correlation and interdependence between these two features remain unclear owing to a limited understanding of their complex atomic dynamics. Here we investigate ionic diffusion and lattice dynamics in argyrodite Ag$$_{8}$$SnSe$$_{6}$$ using synchrotron X-ray and neutron scattering techniques along with machine-learned molecular dynamics. We identify a critical interplay of the vibrational dynamics of mobile Ag and a host framework that controls the overdamping of low-energy Ag-dominated phonons into a quasi-elastic response, enabling superionicity. Concomitantly, the persistence of long-wavelength transverse acoustic phonons across the superionic transition challenges a proposed 'liquid-like thermal conduction' picture. Rather, a striking thermal broadening of low-energy phonons, starting even below 50 K, reveals extreme phonon anharmonicity and weak bonding as underlying features of the potential energy surface responsible for the ultralow thermal conductivity ($$<$$ 0.5 Wm$$^{-1}$$K$$^{-1}$$) and fast diffusion. Our results provide fundamental insights into the complex atomic dynamics in superionic materials for energy conversion and storage.



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