New findings from an international collaboration led by Canadian scientists may eventually lead to a theory of how superconductivity initiates at the atomic level, a key step in understanding how to harness the potential of materials that could provide lossless energy storage, levitating trains and ultra-fast supercomputers.
Professor David Hawthorn, Professor Michel Gingras, doctoral student Andrew Achkar, and post-doctoral fellow Dr. Zhihao Hao from University of Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy have experimentally shown that electron clouds in superconducting materials can snap into an aligned and directional order called nematicity.
“It has become apparent in the past few years that the electrons involved in superconductivity can form patterns, stripes or checkerboards, and exhibit different symmetries – aligning preferentially along one direction,” said Professor Hawthorn. “These patterns and symmetries have important consequences for superconductivity – they can compete, coexist or possibly even enhance superconductivity. ”
Their results, published today in the prestigious journal Science, present the most direct experimental evidence to date of electronic nematicity as a universal feature in cuprate high-temperature superconductors.
“In this study, we identify some unexpected alignment of the electrons – a finding that is likely generic to the high temperature superconductors and in time may turn out be a key ingredient of the problem,” said Professor Hawthorn.
Superconductivity, the ability of a material to conduct an electric current with zero resistance, is best described as an exotic state in high temperature superconductors – challenging to predict, let alone explain.
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