"Speed limit of the insulator–metal transition in magnetite"

S. de Jong: R. Kukreja, C. Trabant, N. Pontius, C. F. Chang, T. Kachel, M. Beye, F. Sorgenfrei, C. H. Back, B. Bräuer, W. F. Schlotter, J. J. Turner, O. Krupin, M. Doehler, D. Zhu, M. A. Hossain, A. O. Scherz, D. Fausti, F. Novelli, M. Esposito, W. S. Lee, Y. D. Chuang, D. H. Lu, R. G. Moore, M. Yi, M. Trigo, P. Kirchmann, L. Pathey, M. S. Golden, M. Buchholz, P. Metcalf, F. Parmigiani, W. Wurth, A. Föhlisch, C. Schüßler-Langeheine & H. A. Dürr; Nature Materials, 07/28/13.

Additional Authors: R. Kukreja, C. Trabant, N. Pontius, C. F. Chang, T. Kachel, M. Beye, F. Sorgenfrei, C. H. Back, B. Bräuer, W. F. Schlotter, J. J. Turner, O. Krupin, M. Doehler, D. Zhu, M. A. Hossain, A. O. Scherz, D. Fausti, F. Novelli, M. Esposito, W. S. Lee, Y. D. Chuang, D. H. Lu, R. G. Moore, M. Yi, M. Trigo, P. Kirchmann, L. Pathey, M. S. Golden, M. Buchholz, P. Metcalf, F. Parmigiani, W. Wurth, A. Föhlisch, C. Schüßler-Langeheine & H. A. Dürr

Abstract:

As the oldest known magnetic material, magnetite (Fe3O4) has fascinated mankind for millennia. As the first oxide in which a relationship between electrical conductivity and fluctuating/localized electronic order was shown1, magnetite represents a model system for understanding correlated oxides in general. Nevertheless, the exact mechanism of the insulator–metal, or Verwey, transition has long remained inaccessible2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Recently, three-Fe-site lattice distortions called trimerons were identified as the characteristic building blocks of the low-temperature insulating electronically ordered phase9. Here we investigate the Verwey transition with pump–probe X-ray diffraction and optical reflectivity techniques, and show how trimerons become mobile across the insulator–metal transition. We find this to be a two-step process. After an initial 300 fs destruction of individual trimerons, phase separation occurs on a 1.5±0.2 ps timescale to yield residual insulating and metallic regions. This work establishes the speed limit for switching in future oxide electronics10.