Field-Driven Mott Gap Collapse and Resistive Switch in Correlated Insulators


Phys. Rev. Lett. 117, 176401


October, 2016


G. Mazza, A. Amaricci, M. Capone, and M. Fabrizio

Mott insulators are “unsuccessful metals” in which Coulomb repulsion prevents charge conduction despite a metal-like concentration of conduction electrons. The possibility to unlock the frozen carriers with an electric field offers tantalizing prospects of realizing new Mott-based microelectronic devices. Here we unveil how such unlocking happens in a simple model that shows the coexistence of a stable Mott insulator and a metastable metal. Considering a slab subject to a linear potential drop, we find, by means of the dynamical mean-field theory, that the electric breakdown of the Mott insulator occurs via a first-order insulator-to-metal transition characterized by an abrupt gap collapse in sharp contrast to the standard Zener breakdown. The switch on of conduction is due to the field-driven stabilization of the metastable metallic phase. Outside the region of insulator-metal coexistence, the electric breakdown occurs through a more conventional quantum tunneling across the Hubbard bands tilted by the field. Our findings rationalize recent experimental observations and may offer a guideline for future technological research.