A Max-Planck-UBC Centre for Quantum Materials (UBC) led research team has discovered a universal electronic state that controls the behavior of high-temperature superconducting copper-oxide ceramics.  The team includes a consortium of research institutions in Canada, the United States and Japan.

The research paper was published last week in the journal Science and reveals the universal existence of so-called ‘charge-density-waves’ – static ripples formed by the self-organization of electrons in the material’s normal state. These ripples carry the seeds out of which superconductivity emerges.

A Copper Oxide Superconducting Pellet Levitating Over a Magnetic Track. Image Credit: UBC Physics. Click image for the largest view.

A Copper Oxide Superconducting Pellet Levitating Over a Magnetic Track.  Image Credit: UBC Physics.  Click image for the largest view.

UBC PhD student Riccardo Comin, lead author on the paper said, “Our understanding of superconductivity in the cuprate family has been hindered by the diversity of intertwining electronic orders.  These new findings suggest the existence of a universal charge-ordering that is common to all cuprate materials, and uncover its connection to the emergence of superconducting behavior.”

The work also proves that researchers can interchangeably use two techniques, resonant X-ray scattering or scanning tunneling microscopy, to probe the mysteries of charge-density-waves.

UBC professor Andrea Damascelli, leader of the research team explains, “These are fundamental, but very subtle, features which leave only a faint spectroscopic fingerprint. The success in detecting these tiny ripples in the electron distribution demonstrates the far-reaching power of these complementary techniques, and their pivotal role in advancing our understanding of quantum materials.”

Superconductivity offers an economy in both the transmission of power and if operating temperatures get high enough major improvements in efficiency of electrical devices.

Superconductivity is the phenomenon of electricity flowing with no resistance that occurs in some materials at very low temperatures. High-temperature cuprate superconductors are capable of conducting electricity without resistance at today’s record high temperatures.

Current cuprate development has operations higher than the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (−321 °F, −196 °C or 77 K).  Because of their unrivaled characteristics, they represent the best candidates so far to advance current superconductor technology, which includes a broad range of applications such as: quantum computers, MRI, high-precision magnetometry, levitating high-speed trains, and lossless power lines.

These temps are within sensible reach, if not yet economically viable at mass scale.  There is some way to go, yet. This is progress and also offers hints about how the cuprate superconductors might be manufactured.

Admittedly, the scientists’ idea of high temperature superconductivity doesn’t necessarily match the regular folks idea of warmer than room temp.  But superconductivity research has been making steps closer and getting past liquid nitrogen is a major threshold.  Maybe the path to getting to room temperature at commercially useful costs is out there on the horizon.


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