Atomic-Scale window into superconductivity paves way for advanced new quantum materials

By Sandra Helsel posted 06 Jun 2022

(SciTechDaily) A new breakthrough in probing unconventional superconductors and understanding quantum materials could lead to new technologies for quantum computing. IQT-News summarizes here.

The experiments were carried out by Wonhee Ko and Petro Maksymovych at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with the theoretical support of Professor Jose Lado of Aalto University. Electrons can quantum tunnel across energy barriers, jumping from one system to another through space in a way that cannot be explained with classical physics. For example, if an electron pairs with another electron right at the point where a metal and superconductor meet, it could form a Cooper pair that enters the superconductor while also “kicking back” another kind of particle into the metal in a process known as Andreev reflection. The researchers looked for these Andreev reflections to detect Cooper pairs.

The experiments were carried out by Wonhee Ko and Petro Maksymovych at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with the theoretical support of Professor Jose Lado of Aalto University. Electrons can quantum tunnel across energy barriers, jumping from one system to another through space in a way that cannot be explained with classical physics. For example, if an electron pairs with another electron right at the point where a metal and superconductor meet, it could form a Cooper pair that enters the superconductor while also “kicking back” another kind of particle into the metal in a process known as Andreev reflection. The researchers looked for these Andreev reflections to detect Cooper pairs.

To do this, they measured the electrical current between an atomically sharp metallic tip and a superconductor, as well as how the current depended on the separation between the tip and the superconductor. This enabled them to detect the amount of Andreev reflection going back to the superconductor, while maintaining an imaging resolution comparable to individual atoms. The results of the experiment corresponded exactly to Lado’s theoretical model.

“This technique establishes a critical new methodology for understanding the internal quantum structure of exotic types of superconductors known as unconventional superconductors, potentially allowing us to tackle a variety of open problems in quantum materials,” Lado says.

This discovery allows for the direct probing of the state of Cooper pairs in unconventional superconductors, establishing a critical new technique for a whole family of quantum materials. It represents a major step forward in our understanding of quantum materials and helps push forward the work of developing quantum technologies.

Sandra K. Helsel, Ph.D. has been researching and reporting on frontier technologies since 1990.  She has her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.

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