A group from the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Quebec studied a 200-nm thick film of vanadium oxide (VO2). They fired a 50-fs laser pulse at the sample, causing what they believe to be two phase transitions: a structural one (the unit cell size increases a bit), monitored with short x-ray pulses; and an electrical one (insulatorto-metal), monitored by short pulses of visible light. The simultaneous, ultrafast measurement of more than 1 degree of freedom showed that both transitions happened essentially all at once. Therefore, the experiment still did not settle an old question in condensed matter physics: Which comes first, the structural change in the sample or the electrical change? Because the crystalline reordering occurs in a few hundred femtoseconds and is reversible, and because x rays scatter differently from the two contrasting crystalline forms, it might be possible to use this whole...
Philip F. Schewe; Insulator to metal within a picosecond. Physics Today 1 January 2002; 55 (1): 9. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4796518
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