Terahertz-field-induced insulator-to-metal transition in vanadium dioxide metamaterial


Electron–electron interactions can render an otherwise conducting material insulating1, with the insulator–metal phase transition in correlated-electron materials being the canonical macroscopic manifestation of the competition between charge-carrier itinerancy and localization. The transition can arise from underlying microscopic interactions among the charge, lattice, orbital and spin degrees of freedom, the complexity of which leads to multiple phase-transition pathways. For example, in many transition metal oxides, the insulator–metal transition has been achieved with external stimuli, including temperature, light, electric field, mechanical strain or magnetic field2,3,4,5,6,7. Vanadium dioxide is particularly intriguing because both the lattice and on-site Coulomb repulsion contribute to the insulator-to-metal transition at 340 K (ref. 8). Thus, although the precise microscopic origin of the phase transition remains elusive, vanadium dioxide serves as a testbed for correlated-electron phase-transition dynamics. Here we report the observation of an insulator–metal transition in vanadium dioxide induced by a terahertz electric field. This is achieved using metamaterial-enhanced picosecond, high-field terahertz pulses to reduce the Coulomb-induced potential barrier for carrier transport9. A nonlinear metamaterial response is observed through the phase transition, demonstrating that high-field terahertz pulses provide alternative pathways to induce collective electronic and structural rearrangements. The metamaterial resonators play a dual role, providing sub-wavelength field enhancement that locally drives the nonlinear response, and global sensitivity to the local changes, thereby enabling macroscopic observation of the dynamics10,11. This methodology provides a powerful platform to investigate low-energy dynamics in condensed matter and, further, demonstrates that integration of metamaterials with complex matter is a viable pathway to realize functional nonlinear electromagnetic composites.

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Figure 1: Low-field THz characterization of 75-nm VO 2 thin film on sapphire with and without metamaterials.
Figure 2: Full-wave simulations of the electric field enhancement in the SRR and nonlinear THz transmission experiment.
Figure 3: THz pump–probe measurement and model calculation.
Figure 4: THz-field-induced damage as revealed by optical and scanning electron micrographs.


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We acknowledge support from DOE-BES under grant DE-FG02-09ER46643 and from ONR grant N00014-09-1-1103.

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R.D.A., K.A.N, M.L. and H.Y.H. came up with the experimental idea. H.Y.H. and M.L. performed the experiments. H.T., K.F., M.L., F.G.O. and X.Z. fabricated the metamaterial structures. A.J.S., M.L. and H.Y.H. performed full-wave electromagnetic simulation and analysed the data. K.G.W., S.K., J.L. and S.A.W. prepared the VO2 thin films. A.C.S. and G.R.K. assisted with the simulation. M.L., H.Y.H., R.D.A. and K.A.N. wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to the understanding of the underlying physics.

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Correspondence to Keith A. Nelson or Richard D. Averitt.

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Liu, M., Hwang, H., Tao, H. et al. Terahertz-field-induced insulator-to-metal transition in vanadium dioxide metamaterial. Nature 487, 345–348 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11231

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