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New clues in search for theory of superconductivity

New clues in search for theory of superconductivity - Physics Forum

New clues in search for theory of superconductivity - Physics Forum. Discuss and ask physics questions, kinematics and other physics problems.


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Old 06-07-2004, 01:10 PM
Bubba Do Wah Ditty
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Default New clues in search for theory of superconductivity



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New clues in search for theory of superconductivity
3 June 2004

A novel magnetic excitation discovered in two different cuprate
superconductors could lead physicists towards a theory of high-temperature
superconductivity. Two separate teams of physicists have used the new MAPS
spectrometer at the ISIS neutron source in the UK to observe the excitation.
Theorists have been trying to explain high-temperature superconductivity,
without success, since it was discovered in 1986.

Superconductors are materials that lose their electrical resistance when
they are cooled below a certain transition temperature. Superconductivity
occurs when electrons overcome their mutual repulsion to form Cooper pairs,
which then all condense into a quantum state that does not experience
electrical resistance. The Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory explained
that low-temperature superconductivity occurs when electrons form pairs as a
result of interactions with vibrations of the crystal lattice known as
phonons. However, the pairing mechanism in high-temperature superconductors
has remained a mystery

All high-temperature superconductors consist of parallel planes of copper
oxide. The copper atoms lie on a square lattice and the charge is carried by
holes sitting on oxygen sites. Each copper atom has an unpaired electron,
and hence a magnetic moment or "spin", and the arrangements of these spins
can be probed in neutron scattering experiments.

Previous neutron-scattering experiments showed that the electrons were
excited into a "magnetic resonance mode", which suggested that magnetic
spins played an important role in these materials. However, the effect was
only found in some high-temperature superconductors and not in others.

Stephen Hayden from Bristol University in the UK and colleagues at ISIS, Oak
Ridge, Tennessee and Missouri-Rolla studied yttrium barium copper oxide
(YBCO). They found that when the sample was excited with neutrons, the
copper spins responded as a group rather than individually (Nature 429 531).
According to Hayden, this so-called collective magnetic excitation means the
spins are strongly interacting, and that these interactions could provide
the "glue" that is responsible for holding the Cooper pairs together in the
material.

Meanwhile, John Tranquada of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US
and co-workers at Brookhaven, ISIS and Tohoku University in Japan found a
similar pattern of magnetic excitations in lanthanum barium copper oxide
(LBCO). This material is known to contain "stripes" of charge -- regions
with a high density of holes -- that lie between non-conducting regions with
low hole-density (Nature 429 534).

"The magnetic excitations are like fingerprints that say these things [LBCO
and YBCO] must be similar in some way," said Tranquada. "In fact, our
results support the concept that stripe correlations might be essential to
high-temperature superconductivity." However, Tranquada admits that his
team's results could be controversial because many physicists believe that
charge stripes can only compete with superconductivity in the cuprates.

Author
Belle Dumé is Science Writer at PhysicsWeb
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