Metal–insulator transitions are transitions from a metal (material with good electrical conductivity of electric charges) to an insulator (material where conductivity of charges is quickly suppressed). These transitions can be achieved by tuning various ambient parameters such as pressure or, in case of a semiconductor, doping.
The basic distinction between metals and insulators was proposed by Bethe, Sommerfeld and Bloch in 1928/1929. It distinguished between conducting metals and nonconducting insulators. However, in 1937 de Boer and Verwey reported that many transition-metal oxides (such as NiO) with a partially filled d-band were poor conductors, often insulating. In the same year, the importance of the electron-electron correlation was stated by Peierls. Since then, these materials as well as others exhibiting a transition between a metal and an insulator have been extensively studied, e.g. by Sir Nevill Mott, after whom the insulating state is named Mott insulator.
The classical band structure of solid state physics predicts the Fermi level to lie in a band gap for insulators and in the conduction band for metals, which means metallic behavior is seen for compounds with partially filled bands. However, some compounds have been found which show insulating behavior even for partially filled bands. This is due to the electron-electron correlation, since electrons cannot be seen as noninteracting. Mott considers a lattice model with just one electron per site. Without taking the interaction into account, each site could be occupied by two electrons, one with spin up and one with spin down. Due to the interaction the electrons would then feel a strong Coulomb repulsion, which Mott argued splits the band in two: The lower band is then occupied by the first electron per site, the upper by the second. If each site is only occupied by a single electron the lower band is completely filled and the upper band completely empty, the system thus a so-called Mott insulator.