Isostructural metal-insulator transition in VO2

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Science  30 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6418, pp. 1037-1040
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9189

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Separating structure and electrons in VO2

Above 341 kelvin—not far from room temperature—bulk vanadium dioxide (VO2) is a metal. But as soon as the material is cooled below 341 kelvin, VO2 turns into an insulator and, at the same time, changes its crystal structure from rutile to monoclinic. Lee et al. studied the peculiar behavior of a heterostructure consisting of a layer of VO2 placed underneath a layer of the same material that has a bit less oxygen. In the VO2 layer, the structural transition occurred at a higher temperature than the metal-insulator transition. In between those two temperatures, VO2 was a metal with a monoclinic structure—a combination that does not occur in the absence of the adjoining oxygen-poor layer.

Science, this issue p. 1037


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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