Fleeting fluctuations in superconductivity disappear close to transition temperature

Feb 13, 2011
Ivan Bozovic

(PhysOrg.com) -- As part of an ongoing effort to uncover details of how high-temperature superconductors carry electrical current with no resistance, scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have measured fluctuations in superconductivity across a wide range of temperatures using terahertz spectroscopy. Their technique allows them to see fluctuations lasting mere billionths of a billionth of a second, and reveals that these fleeting fluctuations disappear 10-15 Kelvin (K) above the transition temperature (Tc) at which superconductivity sets in.

"Our findings suggest that in cuprate superconductors, the transition to the non-superconducting state is driven by a loss of coherence among the ," said Brookhaven physicist Ivan Bozovic, a co-author on a paper describing the results in online, February 13, 2011.

Scientists have been searching for an explanation of high-Tc superconductivity in cuprates since these materials were discovered some 25 years ago. Because they can operate at temperatures much warmer than conventional superconductors, which must be cooled to near (0 K or -273 degrees Celsius), high- Tc superconductors have the potential for real world applications. If scientists can unravel the current-carrying mechanism, they may even be able to discover or design versions that operate at room temperature for applications such as zero-loss power transmission lines. For this reason, many researchers believe that understanding how this transition to superconductivity occurs in cuprates is one of the most important open questions in physics today.

In conventional superconductors, electron pairs form at the transition temperature and condense into a collective, coherent state to carry current with no resistance. In high- Tc varieties, which can operate at temperatures as high as 165 K, there are some indications that electron pairs might form at temperatures 100-200 K higher, but only condense to become coherent when cooled to the transition temperature.

To explore the phase transition, the Johns Hopkins-BNL team sought evidence for superconducting fluctuations above Tc.

"These fluctuations are something like small islands or droplets of superconductivity, within which the electron pairs are coherent, which pop up here and there and live for a while and then evaporate to pop up again elsewhere," Bozovic said. "Such fluctuations occur in every superconductor," he explained, "but in conventional ones only very, very close to Tc — the transition is in fact very sharp."

Some scientists have speculated that in cuprates, on the contrary, superconducting fluctuations might exist in an extremely broad region, all the way up to the temperature at which the electron pairs form. In the present study, the scientists tackle this question head-on, by measuring the conductivity as a function of temperature and frequency up to the terahertz range.

"With this technique, one can see superconducting fluctuations as short-lived as one billionth of one billionth of a second — the shortest possible — and over the entire phase diagram," Bozovic said.

The scientists studied a superconductor containing variable amounts of lanthanum and strontium layered with copper oxide. The samples were fabricated at Brookhaven, using a unique atomic-layer molecular beam epitaxy system that allows for digital synthesis of atomically smooth and perfect thin films. Terahertz spectroscopy measurements were performed at Johns Hopkins.

The central finding was somewhat surprising: The scientists clearly observed superconducting fluctuations, but these fluctuations faded out relatively quickly, within about 10-15 K above Tc, regardless of the lanthanum/strontium ratio.

This implies that in cuprates at the transition temperature, electron pairs lose their coherence. This is in contrast to what happens in conventional superconductors, where the break apart at the .

"So, unlike in conventional superconductors, the transition in cuprates is not driven by electron (de)pairing but rather by loss of coherence between pairs — that is, by phase ," Bozovic said. "The hope is that understanding this process in full detail may bring us one step closer towards cracking the enigma of high-temperature ."

Explore further: Puzzling new behaviour observed in high-temperature superconductors

More information: Temporal correlations of superconductivity above the transition temperature in La2-xSrxCuO4 probed: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys1912

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Telekinetic
1 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2011
I expect that cracking the enigma of high temp.
superconductivity would allow wind and solar generated electricity to be distributed without loss, making it more attractive to investors. Please hurry.

mrlewish
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
Telekinetic. I think you misunderstand market forces. What superconducting cables would actually mean is that some country with plenty of coal and no environmental controls would control or at least greatly influence the energy market. A race to the bottom so to speak. New technologies are great and all but wrongly implemented they can be disastrous.
apex01
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
Even if scientists did figure out cost effective superconductivity, it would likely take atleast 10 years to commercialize.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2011
Even if scientists did figure out cost effective superconductivity, it would likely take atleast 10 years to commercialize.


Ten years is a relatively short time on a four and a half billion year old planet, but with some good fortune, maybe the existing infrastructure could be modified to be superconducting. In any case, the transition to sustainable energy has already begun, and fossil fuels will go the way of the buggy whip.
ab3a
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
Both leftist liberal and right wing conservative agree on this point: We would like to have a sustainable, affordable, practical source of energy to power our society. However, despite the savings that superconductivity could provide, it doesn't solve the problems of where the energy comes from, how it might be safely stored, or how we can encourage people to be more efficient with the energy they do use.

That will require a structural change in our society. It won't happen overnight, no matter how much we all might wish it would be so.
stealthc
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2011
actually it would happen much, much sooner if we just got rid of the current system and just worked on fixing one problem at a time. This system sucks, monopoly is a game that screws people in the end by it being more profitable to be purely and utterly wasteful. We must turn on these people and give them what they deserve, the golden boot the hell out of our country.

Down with the traitorous cabals that lead our civilization.
includao
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2011
I think we dont need societal change, then market change. The only thing we need is suffering and then the mass extinction of the human species.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (6) Feb 14, 2011
I think we dont need societal change, then market change. The only thing we need is suffering and then the mass extinction of the human species.


Well, we have the means to make that happen overnight.
beelize54
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2011
Superconductivity is conceptually quite simple stuff: electrons are getting compressed (attracted to holes) inside of atom lattice, so that their repulsive forces and geometric constrains for their free motion overlap and compensate heavily. But the fact, you know the mechanism still doesn't mean, you can prepare superconductor, in which such compression occurs in sufficiently wide scale - the repulsive force of electrons indeed dilate the lattice, so that additional atoms are required to keep it together and the preparation of materials with alternating layers of strongly attractive and repulsive atoms is tricky - especially if we realize, these layers must form a continuous phase within atom lattice.