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ORNL scientists crack materials mystery in vanadium dioxide news
25 November 2010

A systematic study of phase changes in vanadium dioxide has solved a mystery that has puzzled scientists for decades, according to researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

 
Theoretical research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory can help explain experimental results in vanadium dioxide, such as the formation of thin conductive channels (seen in white) that can appear under strain in a nanoscale vanadium dioxide sample.

Scientists have known that vanadium dioxide exhibits several competing phases when it acts as an insulator at lower temperatures.

However, the exact nature of the phase behavior has not been understood since research began on vanadium dioxide in the early 1960s.

Alexander Tselev, a research associate from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville working with ORNL's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, in collaboration with Igor Luk'yanchuk from the University of Picardy in France used a condensed matter physics theory to explain the observed phase behaviors of vanadium dioxide, a material of significant technological interest for optics and electronics.

"We discovered that the competition between several phases is purely driven by the lattice symmetry," Tselev said. "We figured out that the metallic phase lattice of vanadium oxide can 'fold' in different ways while cooling, so what people observed was different types of its folding."

Vanadium dioxide is best known in the materials world for its speedy and abrupt phase transition that essentially transforms the material from a metal to an insulator. The phase change takes place at about 68 degrees Celsius.





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ORNL scientists crack materials mystery in vanadium dioxide