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VO2 is a model material system which exhibits a metal to insulator transition at 67∘ C. This holds potential for future ultrafast switching in
memorydevices, but typically requires a purely electronic process to avoid the slow lattice response. The role of lattice vibrations is thus important, but it is not well understood and it has been a long-standing source of controversy. We use a combination of ultrafast spectroscopy and ab initio quantum calculations to unveil the mechanism responsible for the transition. We identify an atypical Peierls vibrational mode which acts as a trigger for the transition. This rules out the long standing paradigm of a purely electronic Mott transition in VO2; however, we found a new electron-phonon pathway for a purely reversible electronic transition in a true bi-stable fashion under specific conditions. This transition is very atypical, as it involves purely charge-like excitations and requires only small nuclear displacement. Our findings will prompt the design of future ultrafast electro-resistive non-volatile memory devices.

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