M. M. Qazilbash, M. Brehm, Byung-Gyu Chae, P.-C. Ho, G. O. Andreev, Bong-Jun Kim, Sun Jin Yun, A. V. Balatsky, M. B. Maple, F. Keilmann, Hyun-Tak Kim and D. N. Basov
Science 318, p.1750 (2007)
Electrons in correlated insulators are prevented from conducting by Coulomb repulsion between them. When an insulator-to-metal transition is induced in a correlated insulator by doping or heating, the resulting conducting state can be radically different from that characterized by free electrons in conventional metals. We report on the electronic properties of a prototypical correlated insulator vanadium dioxide in which the metallic state can be induced by increasing temperature. Scanning near-field infrared microscopy allows us to directly image nanoscale metallic puddles that appear at the onset of the insulator-to-metal transition. In combination with far-field infrared spectroscopy, the data reveal the Mott transition with divergent quasi-particle mass in the metallic puddles. The experimental approach used sets the stage for investigations of charge dynamics on the nanoscale in other inhomogeneous correlated electron systems.