Ultrafast disordering of vanadium dimers in photoexcited VO2

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 572-576
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau3873

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Snapshots of a phase transition

Time-resolved x-ray scattering can be used to investigate the dynamics of materials during the switch from one structural phase to another. So far, methods provide an ensemble average and may miss crucial aspects of the detailed mechanisms at play. Wall et al. used a total-scattering technique to probe the dynamics of the ultrafast insulator-to-metal transition of vanadium dioxide (VO2) (see the Perspective by Cavalleri). Femtosecond x-ray pulses provide access to the time- and momentum-resolved dynamics of the structural transition. Their results show that the photoinduced transition is of the order-disorder type, driven by an ultrafast change in the lattice potential that suddenly unlocks the vanadium atoms and yields large-amplitude uncorrelated motions, rather than occurring through a coherent displacive mechanism.

Science, this issue p. 572; see also p. 525