Like the delicate form of an icicle defying gravity during a spring thaw, patterns emerge in nature when forces compete. Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found a hidden pattern in cuprate (copper-containing) superconductors that may help explain high-temperature superconductivity.
Superconductivity, the complete loss of electrical resistance in some materials, occurs at temperatures near absolute zero. First observed in 1911 by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, the mechanism of superconductivity remained unexplained until 1957, when Illinois physicists John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and J. Robert Schrieffer determined that electrons, normally repulsive, could form pairs and move in concert in superconducting materials below a certain critical temperature.
For more than a decade, scientists have been baffled by superconductivity in the copper oxides, which occurs at liquid-nitrogen temperatures and does not seem to behave according to standard BCS theory. A tantalizing goal, which would have enormous implications for electronics and power distribution, is to achieve superconductivity at room temperature. A large piece of the puzzle has been to understand how the coherent dance of electrons that gives rise to superconductivity changes when the material is heated.
James E. Kloeppel | UIUC
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