In a standard scanning tunneling microscope image, left, the atoms in a cuprate crystal the bright blobs) are not in a particularly orderly arrangement. But an image of the probable distribution of electrons, right, shows that clouds of them have arranged themselves in what amounts to an electronic crystal. The brighter areas seem to contain more electrons, but the reason for this is unknown.
To protect the instrument from outside vibrations, the modified STM at Cornell is enclosed in a sealed, isolated room mounted on massive supports. Copyright © Cornell University
With equipment so sensitive that it can locate clusters of electrons, Cornell University and University of Tokyo physicists have -- sort of -- explained puzzling behavior in a much-studied high-temperature superconductor, perhaps leading to a better understanding of how such superconductors work.
It turns out that under certain conditions the electrons in the material pretty much ignore the atoms to which they are supposed to be attached, arranging themselves into a neat pattern that looks like a crystal lattice. The behavior occurs in a phase physicists have called a "pseudogap," but because the newly discovered arrangement looks like a checkerboard in scanning tunneling microscope (STM) images, J.C. Séamus Davis, Cornell professor of physics, calls the phenomenon a "checkerboard phase."
Davis, Hidenori Takagi, professor of physics at the University of Tokyo, and co-workers describe the observations in the Aug. 26, 2004, issue of the journal Nature. An article about the work also is scheduled to appear in the September issue of Physics Today.
Bill Steele | EurekAlert!
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