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Vanadium dioxide crystal lattice

A vanadium dioxide crystal lattice

A vanadium dioxide crystal lattice. The vibrational properties of atoms in a lattice are determined by the surrounding electron clouds (blue wave front). These oscillations can be suppressed by a sufficiently strong absorption of light (red) that drives a phase transition.

An international team of physicists, led by Richard Haglund, a physics professor at Vanderbilt University, developed a method for taking ultrafast "sonograms" of materials undergoing phase transitions. Phase transitions are structural changes that produce dramatic changes in a materials physical properties--such as the melting of candle wax before it burns and dissolving sugar in water--and play a critical role both in nature and in industrial processes ranging from the making of steel to chip fabrication.

The method can track the structural changes that take place within solid materials in trillionth-of-a-second intervals and sheds new light on the manner in which vanadium dioxide, the material that undergoes the fastest phase transition known, shifts between its transparent and reflective phases.

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (grant ECCS 08-01985). To learn more, see the Vanderbilt news story Ultrafast sonograms shed new light on rapid phase transitions. (Date of Image: March 2012)

Credit: Julia Stähler, Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society
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