Nonequilibrium Phase Transitions in Cuprates Observed by Ultrafast Electron Crystallography
Nonequilibrium phase transitions, which are defined by the formation of macroscopic transient domains, are optically dark and cannot be observed through conventional temperature- or pressure-change studies. We have directly determined the structural dynamics of such a nonequilibrium phase transition in a cuprate superconductor. Ultrafast electron crystallography with the use of a tilted optical geometry technique afforded the necessary atomic-scale spatial and temporal resolutions. The observed transient behavior displays a notable "structural isosbestic" point and a threshold effect for the dependence of c-axis expansion (Δc) on fluence (F), with Δc/F = 0.02 angstrom/(millijoule per square centimeter). This threshold for photon doping occurs at ∼0.12 photons per copper site, which is unexpectedly close to the density (per site) of chemically doped carriers needed to induce superconductivity.