Continuous elastic phase transitions and disordered crystals

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We review the theory of second–order (ferro–)elastic phase transitions, where the order parameter consists of a certain linear combination of strain tensor components, and the accompanying soft mode is an acoustic phonon. In three–dimensional crystals, the softening can occur in one– or two–dimensional soft sectors. The ensuing anisotropy reduces the effect of fluctuations, rendering the critical behaviour of these systems classical for a one–dimensional soft sector, and classical with logarithmic corrections in case of a two–dimensional soft sector. The dynamical critical exponent is z = 2, and as a consequence the sound velocity vanishes as cs ∝ |T − Tc|1/2, while the phonon damping coefficient is essentially temperature–independent. Even if the elastic phase transition is driven by the softening of an optical mode linearly coupled to a transverse acoustic phonon, the critical exponents retain their mean–field values. Disorder may lead to a variety of precursor effects and modified critical behaviour. Defects that locally soften the crystal may induce the phenomenon of local order parameter condensation. When the correlation length of the pure system exceeds the average defect separation nD−1/3, a disorder–induced phase transition to a state with non–zero average order parameter can occur at a temperature Tc(nD) well above the transition temperature T0c of the pure crystal. Near T0c, the order–parameter curve, susceptibility, and specific heat appear rounded. For T < Tc(nD) the spatial inhomogeneity induces a static central peak with finite q width in the scattering cross section, accompanied by a dynamical component that is confined to the very vicinity of the disorder–induced phase transition.