Daniel Wegkamp and Julia Stähler:
Prog. Surf. Sci. 90, 464-502 (2015), pp. 39;
The phase transition of VO2 from a monoclinic insulator to a rutile metal, which occurs thermally at image = 340 K, can also be driven by strong photoexcitation. The ultrafast dynamics during this photoinduced phase transition (PIPT) have attracted great scientific attention for decades, as this approach promises to answer the question of whether the insulator-to-metal (IMT) transition is caused by electronic or crystallographic processes through disentanglement of the different contributions in the time domain. We review our recent results achieved by femtosecond time-resolved photoelectron, optical, and coherent phonon spectroscopy and discuss them within the framework of a selection of latest, complementary studies of the ultrafast PIPT in VO2. We show that the population change of electrons and holes caused by photoexcitation launches a highly non-equilibrium plasma phase characterized by enhanced screening due to quasi-free carriers and followed by two branches of non-equilibrium dynamics: (i) an instantaneous (within the time resolution) collapse of the insulating gap that precedes charge carrier relaxation and significant ionic motion and (ii) an instantaneous lattice potential symmetry change that represents the onset of the crystallographic phase transition through ionic motion on longer timescales. We discuss the interconnection between these two non-thermal pathways with particular focus on the meaning of the critical fluence of the PIPT in different types of experiments. Based on this, we conclude that the PIPT threshold identified in optical experiments is most probably determined by the excitation density required to drive the lattice potential change rather than the IMT. These considerations suggest that the IMT can be driven by weaker excitation, predicting a transiently metallic, monoclinic state of VO2 that is not stabilized by the non-thermal structural transition and, thus, decays on ultrafast timescales..
The original publication is available by link DOI: 10.1016/j.progsurf.2015.10.001