Inside a clean room, physicists Ivan Bozovic (left) and Anthony Bollinger, Brookhaven, work on the molecular beam epitaxy system that produced the atomically perfect materials used in the study. Credit: Brookhaven National Lab

Physicists measure fleeting electron waves to uncover the elusive mechanism behind high-temperature superconductivity

February 24, 2013

Identifying the mysterious mechanism underlying high-temperature superconductivity (HTS) remains one of the most important and tantalizing puzzles in physics. This remarkable phenomenon allows electric current to pass with perfect efficiency through materials chilled to subzero temperatures, and it may play an essential role in revolutionizing the entire electricity chain, from generation to transmission and grid-scale storage. Pinning down one of the possible explanations for HTS—fleeting fluctuations called charge-density waves (CDWs)—could help solve the mystery and pave the way for rapid technological advances.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have combined two state-of-the-art experimental techniques to study those electron waves with unprecedented precision in two-dimensional, custom-grown materials. The surprising results, published online February 24, 2013, in the journal Nature Materials, reveal that CDWs cannot be the root cause of the unparalleled power conveyance in HTS materials. In fact, CDW formation is an independent and likely competing instability.

“It has been difficult to determine whether or not dynamic or fluctuating CDWs even exist in HTS materials, much less identify their role,” said Brookhaven Lab physicist and study coauthor Ivan Bozovic. “Do they compete with the HTS state, or are they perhaps the very essence of the phenomenon? That question has now been answered by targeted experimentation.”

Read more: Physicists measure fleeting electron waves to uncover the elusive mechanism behind high-temperature superconductivity — phys.org.

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