Superheating and supercooling effects are characteristic kinetic processes in first-order phase transitions, and asymmetry between them is widely observed. In materials where electronic and structural degrees of freedom are coupled, a wide, asymmetric hysteresis may occur in the transition between electronic phases. Structural defects are known to seed heterogeneous nucleation of the phase transition, hence reduce the degree of superheating and supercooling. Here we show that in the metal-insulator transition of single-crystal VO 2, a large kinetic asymmetry arises from the distinct spatial extension and distribution of two basic types of crystal defects: point defects and twin walls. Nanometer-thick twin walls are constantly consumed but regenerated during the transition to the metal phase, serving as dynamical heterogeneous nucleation seeds and eliminating superheating. On the other hand, the transition back to the insulator phase relies on nucleation at point defects because twinning is structurally forbidden in the metal phase, leading to a large supercooling. By controlling the formation, location, and extinction of these defects, the kinetics of the phase transition might be externally modulated, offering possible routes toward unique memory and logic device technologies.


Materials Science and Engineering


This work was supported by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) under US Department of Energy Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 (irradiation and measurements), and by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. EEC-0832819 (material synthesis and device fabrication), and NSF Grant No. DMR-0820404 (theory and modeling).

Keywords and Phrases

Vanadium; Metal insulator transition; Vanadium dioxide

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1098-0121; 1550-235X

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





© 2011 American Physical Society (APS), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jun 2011