A method for forming crystallographically coherent precipitates of vanadium dioxide in the near-surface region of sapphire and the resulting product is disclosed. Ions of vanadium and oxygen are stoichiometrically implanted into a sapphire substrate (Al.sub.2 O.sub.3), and subsequently annealed to form vanadium dioxide precipitates in the substrate. The embedded VO.sub.2 precipitates, which are three-dimensionally oriented with respect to the crystal axes of the Al.sub.2 O.sub.3 host lattice, undergo a first-order monoclinic-to-tetragonal (and also semiconducting-to-metallic) phase transition at .about.77.degree. C. This transformation is accompanied by a significant variation in the optical transmission of the implanted region and results in the formation of an optically active, thermally "switchable" surface region on Al.sub.2 O.sub.3.
This invention was made with government support under contract number DE-AC05-96OR22464 awarded by the Department of Energy. The government may have certain rights in this invention.