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  • Electrons “synch up” to form superconductors

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2011
OXFORD, UK – One hundred years after superconductivity was first observed in 1911, a team of researchers has used laser light to transform a nonsuperconducting material into a superconductor.

Superconductivity – a phenomenon in which an electric current travels through a material without any resistance – allows materials to act as perfect electrical conductors without any energy loss.

The researchers, from Oxford, Germany and Japan, observed conclusive signatures of superconductivity after hitting a nonsuperconductor with a strong burst of laser light. They used a material closely related to high-temperature copper oxide superconductors for their research, which appears in Science, Vol. 331, No. 6014, pp. 189-191 (2011).

They describe how they used a strong infrared laser pulse to perturb the position of some of the atoms in the material. The compound, which was held at a temperature 20° above absolute zero, almost instantaneously became a superconductor for a fraction of a second, before it relaxed back to its normal state.

They found that the nonsuperconducting and the superconducting states are not that different in the materials, as it took only a millionth of a millionth of a second (1 x 10—12) for the nonsuperconducting material’s electrons to “synch up” and superconduct. The results showed that the nonsuperconducting material essentially was synched, but that something was preventing it from sliding around with zero resistance. By using precisely tuned laser light, they removed the frustration, unlocking its superconductivity.

The researchers hope that the advancements will offer a new route to obtaining superconductivity at higher temperatures. If superconductors can be made to work at room temperatures, it could open the door for many technological applications.

A metal, alloy or compound that loses its electrical resistance at temperatures below a certain transition temperature referred to as Tc. High-temperature superconductors occur near 130 K, while low-temperature superconductors have Tc in the range of 4 to 18 K.
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