Mott transitions in real materials are first order and almost always associated with lattice distortions, both features promoting the emergence of nanotextured phases. This nanoscale self-organization creates spatially inhomogeneous regions, which can host and protect transient non-thermal electronic and lattice states triggered by light excitation. However, to gain full control of the Mott transition for potential applications in the field of ultrafast switching and neuromorphic computing it is necessary to develop novel spatial and temporal multiscale experimental probes as well as theoretical approaches able to distill the complex microscopic physics into a coarse-grained modelling.
Here, we combine time-resolved X-ray microscopy, which snaps phase transformations on picosecond timescales with nanometric resolution, with a Landau-Ginzburg functional approach for calculating the strain and electronic real-space configurations. We investigate V2O3, the archetypal Mott insulator in which nanoscale self-organization already exists in the low-temperature monoclinic phase and strongly affects the transition towards the high-temperature corundum metallic phase. Our joint experimental-theoretical approach uncovers a remarkable out-of-equilibrium phenomenon: the photoinduced stabilisation of the long sought monoclinic metal phase, which is absent at equilibrium and in homogeneous materials, but emerges as a metastable state solely when light excitation is combined with the underlying nanotexture of the monoclinic lattice. Our results provide full comprehension of the nanotexture dynamics across the insulator-to-metal transition, which can be readily extended to many families of Mott insulating materials. The combination of ultrafast light excitation and spatial nanotexture turns out to be key to develop novel control protocols in correlated quantum materials.