Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Impurity atoms introduce waves of disorder in exotic electronic material

18.10.2011
Sophisticated electron-imaging technique reveals widespread "destruction," offering clues to how material works as a superconductor

It's a basic technique learned early, maybe even before kindergarten: Pulling things apart - from toy cars to complicated electronic materials - can reveal a lot about how they work. "That's one way physicists study the things that they love; they do it by destroying them," said Séamus Davis, a physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and the J.G. White Distinguished Professor of Physical Sciences at Cornell University.

Davis and colleagues recently turned this destructive approach - and a sophisticated tool for "seeing" the effects - on a material they've been studying for its own intrinsic beauty, and for the clues it may offer about superconductivity, the ability of some materials to carry electric current with no resistance. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of October 17, 2011, reveal how substituting just a few atoms can cause widespread disruption of the delicate interactions that give the material its unique properties, including superconductivity.

The material, a compound of uranium, ruthenium, and silicon, is known as a "heavy-fermion" system. "It's a system where the electrons zooming through the material stop periodically to interact with electrons localized on the uranium atoms that make up the lattice, or framework of the crystal," Davis said. These stop-and-go magnetic interactions slow down the electrons, making them appear as if they've taken on extra mass, but also contribute to the material's superconductivity.

In 2010*, Davis and a group of collaborators visualized these heavy fermions for the first time using a technique developed by Davis, known as spectroscopic imaging scanning tunneling microscopy (SI-STM), which measures the wavelength of electrons of the material in relation to their energy.

The idea of the present study was to "destroy" the heavy fermion system by substituting thorium for some of the uranium atoms. Thorium, unlike uranium, is non-magnetic, so in theory, the electrons should be able to move freely around the thorium atoms, instead of stopping for the brief magnetic encounters they have at each uranium atom. These areas where the electrons should flow freely are known as "Kondo holes," named for the physicist who first described the scattering of conductive electrons due to magnetic impurities.

Free-flowing electrons might sound like a good thing if you want a material that can carry current with no resistance. But Kondo holes turn out to be quite destructive to superconductivity. By visualizing the behavior of electrons around Kondo holes for the first time, Davis' current research helps to explain why.

"There have been beautiful theories that predict the effects of Kondo holes, but no one knew how to look at the behavior of the electrons, until now," Davis said.

Working with thorium-doped samples made by physicist Graeme Luke at McMaster University in Ontario, Davis' team used SI-STM to visualize the electron behavior.

"First we identified the sites of the thorium atoms in the lattice, then we looked at the quantum mechanical wave functions of the electrons surrounding those sites," Davis said.

The SI-STM measurements bore out many of the theoretical predictions, including the idea proposed just last year by physicist Dirk Morr of the University of Illinois that the electron waves would oscillate wildly around the Kondo holes, like ocean waves hitting a lighthouse.

"Our measurements revealed waves of disturbance in the 'quantum glue' holding the heavy fermions together," Davis said.

So, by destroying the heavy fermions - which must pair up for the material to act as a superconductor - the Kondo holes disrupt the material's superconductivity.

Davis' visualization technique also reveals how just a few Kondo holes can cause such widespread destruction: "The waves of disturbance surrounding each thorium atom are like the ripples that emanate from raindrops suddenly hitting a still pond on a calm day," he said. "And like those ripples, the electronic disturbances travel out quite a distance, interacting with one another. So it takes a tiny number of these impurities to make a lot of disorder."

What the scientists learn by studying the exotic heavy fermion system may also pertain to the mechanism of other superconductors that can operate at warmer temperatures.

"The interactions in high-temperature superconductors are horribly complicated," Davis said. "But understanding the magnetic mechanism that leads to pairing in heavy fermion superconductors - and how it can so easily be disrupted - may offer clues to how similar magnetic interactions might contribute to superconductivity in other materials."

This research was supported by the DOE's Office of Science, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Additional collaborators included Mohammad Hamidian and Ines Firmo of Brookhaven Lab and Cornell, and Andy Schmidt now at the University of California, Berkeley.

RELATED LINKS:

First Images of Heavy Electrons in Action: http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/PR_display.asp?prID=1130

One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by the Research Foundation of State University of New York on behalf of Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization. Visit Brookhaven Lab's electronic newsroom for links, news archives, graphics, and more at http://www.bnl.gov/newsroom , or follow Brookhaven Lab on Twitter, http://twitter.com/BrookhavenLab .

Karen McNulty Walsh | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bnl.gov

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Decoding cement's shape promises greener concrete
08.12.2016 | Rice University

nachricht Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D
08.12.2016 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>