Ultrafast Switching to a Stable Hidden Quantum State in an Electronic Crystal

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Science  11 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6180, pp. 177-180
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241591

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Exposing a Hidden State

Shining intense laser light on a material can temporarily alter its properties. The effect usually subsides after a few picoseconds, unless the system is trapped in a metastable state, in which case the transient period may last as long as microseconds. Stojchevska et al. (p. 177) observed that, following exposure to a 35-femtosecond laser pulse, the layered dichalcogenide 1T-TaS2 entered a stable “hidden” state not present in the equilibrium phase diagram and stayed there indefinitely. The switch to the hidden state could be reversed by heat or a train of laser pulses. Because the switch alters the sample's conducting properties, the phenomenon might also lead to practical applications.


Hidden states of matter may be created if a system out of equilibrium follows a trajectory to a state that is inaccessible or does not exist under normal equilibrium conditions. We found such a hidden (H) electronic state in a layered dichalcogenide crystal of 1T-TaS2 (the trigonal phase of tantalum disulfide) reached as a result of a quench caused by a single 35-femtosecond laser pulse. In comparison to other states of the system, the H state exhibits a large drop of electrical resistance, strongly modified single-particle and collective-mode spectra, and a marked change of optical reflectivity. The H state is stable until a laser pulse, electrical current, or thermal erase procedure is applied, causing it to revert to the thermodynamic ground state.

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