Cooperative photoinduced metastable phase control in strained manganite films


A major challenge in condensed-matter physics is active control of quantum phases1,2. Dynamic control with pulsed electromagnetic fields can overcome energetic barriers, enabling access to transient or metastable states that are not thermally accessible3,4,5. Here we demonstrate strain-engineered tuning of La2/3Ca1/3MnO3 into an emergent charge-ordered insulating phase with extreme photo-susceptibility, where even a single optical pulse can initiate a transition to a long-lived metastable hidden metallic phase. Comprehensive single-shot pulsed excitation measurements demonstrate that the transition is cooperative and ultrafast, requiring a critical absorbed photon density to activate local charge excitations that mediate magnetic–lattice coupling that, in turn, stabilize the metallic phase. These results reveal that strain engineering can tune emergent functionality towards proximal macroscopic states to enable dynamic ultrafast optical phase switching and control.

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Figure 1: Strain engineered La2/3Ca1/3MnO3 (LCMO) thin film.
Figure 2: Photoinduced insulator-to-metal phase transition in strain-engineered thin film.
Figure 3: Pulse-to-pulse conductivity changes and single-shot dynamics.
Figure 4: Ginzburg–Landau free-energy phenomenology.


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R.D.A. and J.Z. acknowledge support from DOE—Basic Energy Sciences under Grant No. DE-FG02-09ER46643. X.T., F.J. and W.W. acknowledge support from the NSF of China (Grant No. 11274287), the National Basic Research Program of China (Grant Nos. 2012CB927402 and 2015CB921201) and from NSF of China (Grant Nos. 11474263 and U1432251). S.W.T. and K.A.N. acknowledge support from Office of Naval Research (N00014-12-1-0530) and the National Science Foundation (CHE-1111557). M.L., K.W.P. and D.N.B. are supported by DE-SC0012375 and DE-SC0012592. D.N.B. is the Moore Foundation Investigator in Quantum Materials, EPiQS Initiative GBMF4533.

Author information

J.Z. and R.D.A. developed the idea. X.T., F.J. and W.W. performed material growth and film characterization. J.Z., M.L., K.W.P. and D.N.B. performed the optical conductivity measurements. J.Z., and S.W.T., R.D.A., K.A.N. performed the THz and single-shot measurements. J.Z. and R.D.A. performed the Ginzburg–Landau analysis. R.D.A., W.W., D.N.B. and K.A.N. supervised the project. J.Z. and R.D.A. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the understanding of the physics and revised the paper.

Correspondence to Jingdi Zhang or R. D. Averitt.

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Zhang, J., Tan, X., Liu, M. et al. Cooperative photoinduced metastable phase control in strained manganite films. Nature Mater 15, 956–960 (2016).

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