Time-domain separation of optical properties from structural transitions in resonantly bonded materials
PublisherNature Publishing Group
Rights accessOpen Access
The extreme electro-optical contrast between crystalline and amorphous states in phase-change materials is routinely exploited in optical data storage1 and future applications include universal memories2, flexible displays3, reconfigurable optical circuits4, 5, and logic devices6. Optical contrast is believed to arise owing to a change in crystallinity. Here we show that the connection between optical properties and structure can be broken. Using a combination of single-shot femtosecond electron diffraction and optical spectroscopy, we simultaneously follow the lattice dynamics and dielectric function in the phase-change material Ge2Sb2Te5 during an irreversible state transformation. The dielectric function changes by 30% within 100 fs owing to a rapid depletion of electrons from resonantly bonded states. This occurs without perturbing the crystallinity of the lattice, which heats with a 2-ps time constant. The optical changes are an order of magnitude larger than those achievable with silicon and present new routes to manipulate light on an ultrafast timescale without structural changes.