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A coherent all-optical nonlinear polarization switch based on exciton–exciton correlations is demonstrated in a multiple-quantum-well semiconductor structure. A contrast ratio of 8:1 and a relaxation time of less than a picosecond are reported at 80 K using only ten wells. The results are compared to a simple phenomenological model to demonstrate that many-body effects are solely responsible for the switching action and that the turn-on and turn-off times are determined by the dephasing time. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.