We have grown highly oriented lead zirconate titanate [Pb(Zr, Ti)O3 or PZT] films on oxidized silicon substrates using a thin MgO buffer layer (7–70 nm thick). Ferroelectric nonvolatile memory field-effect transistors (FETs) were successfully fabricated using the metal/PZT/MgO/SiO2/Si structure in conjunction with radio-frequency sputter deposition of PZT and MgO films. The fabricated devices show excellent performance in ferroelectric polarization switching and memory retention. The results indicate that a thin MgO buffer serves well not only as a template layer for the growth of oriented PZT films on amorphous substrates, but also as a diffusion barrier between a ferroelectric and a substrate during device fabrication, protecting the SiO2/Si interface and the FET channel region. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.