The influence of Mott physics on the doping–temperature phase diagram of copper oxides represents a major issue that is the subject of intense theoretical and experimental efforts. Here, we investigate the ultrafast electron dynamics in prototypical single-layer Bi-based cuprates at the energy scale of the O-2p → Cu-3d charge-transfer (CT) process. We demonstrate a clear evolution of the CT excitations from incoherent and localized, as in a Mott insulator, to coherent and delocalized, as in a conventional metal. This reorganization of the high-energy degrees of freedom occurs at the critical doping pcr ≈ 0.16 irrespective of the temperature, and it can be well described by dynamical mean-field theory calculations. We argue that the onset of low-temperature charge instabilities is the low-energy manifestation of the underlying Mottness that characterizes the p < pcr region of the phase diagram. This discovery sets a new framework for theories of charge order and low-temperature phases in underdoped copper oxides.
- charge order
- high-temperature superconductivity