Universal phase dynamics in VO2 switches revealed by ultrafast operando diffraction

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Science  16 Jul 2021:
Vol. 373, Issue 6552, pp. 352-355
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc0652

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A transient metal

Vanadium dioxide is known to have a coupled structural and electronic transition that can be accessed through light, thermal, or electrical excitation. Ultrafast optical studies of this insulator-to-metal transition indicate that it is mediated by the formation of a transient metallic phase that retains the structure of the original insulating phase. Sood et al. show that a similar sequence occurs when the material is electrically excited with a series of voltage pulses. Using ultrafast electron diffraction, the researchers monitored the structure of a vanadium dioxide sample after excitation and found evidence of a metastable metallic phase that appears during the transition.

Science, abc0652, this issue p. 352


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.

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