Understanding the pathways and time scales underlying electrically driven insulator-metal transitions is crucial for uncovering the fundamental limits of device operation. Using stroboscopic electron diffraction, we perform synchronized time-resolved measurements of atomic motions and electronic transport in operating vanadium dioxide (VO2) switches. We discover an electrically triggered, isostructural state that forms transiently on microsecond time scales, which is shown by phase-field simulations to be stabilized by local heterogeneities and interfacial interactions between the equilibrium phases. This metastable phase is similar to that formed under photoexcitation within picoseconds, suggesting a universal transformation pathway. Our results establish electrical excitation as a route for uncovering nonequilibrium and metastable phases in correlated materials, opening avenues for engineering dynamical behavior in nanoelectronics.
The metal-insulator transition in correlated materials is usually coupled to a symmetry-lowering structural phase transition. This coupling not only complicates the understanding of the basic mechanism of this phenomenon but also limits the speed and endurance of prospective electronic devices. We demonstrate an isostructural, purely electronically driven metal-insulator transition in epitaxial heterostructures of an archetypal correlated material, vanadium dioxide. A combination of thin-film synthesis, structural and electrical characterizations, and theoretical modeling reveals that an interface interaction suppresses the electronic correlations without changing the crystal structure in this otherwise correlated insulator. This interaction stabilizes a nonequilibrium metallic phase and leads to an isostructural metal-insulator transition. This discovery will provide insights into phase transitions of correlated materials and may aid the design of device functionalities.
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- p. 1037-1040
- American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
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- National Science Foundation
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