Resolving the puzzles of graphene superconductivity

Experimental data from trilayer graphene (bottom) shows two circular Fermi surfaces, creating a ring-like shape, in which the occupied electronic states lie (top). In unconventional superconductivity, the electrons are assumed to be “glued” together by an interaction, not to be confused with their usual interaction of electrical repulsion.
Credit: IST Austria

Physicists publish a theoretical framework to explain the recent discovery of superconductivity in trilayer graphene.

A single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice makes up the promising nanomaterial called graphene. Research on a setup of three sheets of graphene stacked on top of one another so that their lattices are aligned but shifted — forming rhombohedral trilayer graphene – revealed an unexpected state of superconductivity. In this state electrical resistance vanishes due to the quantum nature of the electrons. The discovery was published and debated in Nature, whilst the origins remained elusive. Now, Professor Maksym Serbyn and Postdoc Areg Ghazaryan from the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria in collaboration with Professor Erez Berg and Postdoc Tobias Holder from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, developed a theoretical framework of unconventional superconductivity, which resolves the puzzles posed by the experimental data.

The Puzzles and their Resolution

Superconductivity relies on the pairing of free electrons in the material despite their repulsion arising from their equal negative charges. This pairing happens between electrons of opposite spin through vibrations of the crystal lattice. Spin is a quantum property of particles comparable, but not identical to rotation. The mentioned kind of pairing is the case at least in conventional superconductors. “Applied to trilayer graphene,” co-lead-author Ghazaryan points out, “we identified two puzzles that seem difficult to reconcile with conventional superconductivity.”

First, above a threshold temperature of roughly -260 °C electrical resistance should rise in equal steps with increasing temperature. However, in the experiments it remained constant up to -250 °C. Second, pairing between electrons of opposite spin implies a coupling that contradicts another experimentally observed feature, namely the presence of a nearby configuration with fully aligned spins, which we know as magnetism. “In the paper, we show that both observations are explainable,” group leader Maksym Serbyn summarizes, “if one assumes that an interaction between electrons provides the ‘glue’ that holds electrons together. This leads to unconventional superconductivity.”

When one draws all possible states, which electrons can have, on a certain chart and then separates the occupied ones from the unoccupied ones with a line, this separation line is called a Fermi surface. Experimental data from graphene shows two Fermi surfaces, creating a ring-like shape. In their work, the researchers draw from a theory from Kohn and Luttinger from the 1960’s and demonstrate that such circular Fermi surfaces favor a mechanism for superconductivity based only on electron interactions. They also suggest experimental setups to test their argument and offer routes towards raising the critical temperature, where superconductivity starts appearing.

The Benefits of Graphene Superconductivity

While superconductivity has been observed in other trilayer and bilayer graphene, these known materials must be specifically engineered and may be hard to control because of their low stability. Rhombohedral trilayer graphene, although rare, is naturally occurring. The proposed theoretical solution has the potential of shedding light on long-standing problems in condensed matter physics and opening the way to potential applications of both superconductivity and graphene.


Ghazaryan, Holder, Serbyn & Berg. 2021. Unconventional superconductivity in systems with annular Fermi surfaces: Application to rhombohedral trilayer graphene. Physical Review Letters. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.127.247001

Funding information:

The IST Austria project part was supported by funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 754411. Erez Berg and Tobias Holder were supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under Grant Agreement No. 817799.

Media contact:

Michaela Klement
+43 664 8832 6310

IST Austria

The Institute of Science and Technology (IST Austria) is a PhD-granting research institution located in Klosterneuburg, 18 km from the center of Vienna, Austria. Inaugurated in 2009, the Institute is dedicated to basic research in the natural and mathematical sciences. IST Austria employs professors on a tenure-track system, postdoctoral fellows, and doctoral students. While dedicated to the principle of curiosity-driven research, the Institute owns the rights to all scientific discoveries and is committed to promoting their use. The first president of IST Austria is Thomas A. Henzinger, a leading computer scientist and former professor at the University of California in Berkeley, USA, and the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. The graduate school of IST Austria offers fully-funded PhD positions to highly qualified candidates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in biology, neuroscience, mathematics, computer science, physics, and related areas.

Journal: Physical Review Letters
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.127.247001
Article Title: Unconventional Superconductivity in Systems with Annular Fermi Surfaces: Application to Rhombohedral Trilayer Graphene
Article Publication Date: 9-Dec-2021

Media Contact

Markus Feigl
Institute of Science and Technology Austria
Cell: 664 / 88 32 6393

Media Contact

Markus Feigl
Institute of Science and Technology Austria

All latest news from the category: Physics and Astronomy

This area deals with the fundamental laws and building blocks of nature and how they interact, the properties and the behavior of matter, and research into space and time and their structures.

innovations-report provides in-depth reports and articles on subjects such as astrophysics, laser technologies, nuclear, quantum, particle and solid-state physics, nanotechnologies, planetary research and findings (Mars, Venus) and developments related to the Hubble Telescope.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

Breakthrough brings potential glioblastoma drug into focus

A new class of small molecule drugs, now in phase 1 clinical trials, is the first to target circadian clock proteins, which play a key role in the recurrence and…

Powerful Bragg reflector with ultrahigh refractive index metamaterial

We all look in the mirror at least once a day to see our reflection. Mirrors are used not only in daily life but also in cutting-edge technologies such as…

Casting shadows on solar cells connected in series

In shaded conditions, photovoltaics linked end-to-end experience more power loss than cells running in parallel. Large obstacles, like clouds and buildings, can block sunlight from reaching solar cells, but smaller…

Partners & Sponsors