Electrons Get Heavy and Demonstrate SuperconductivityCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: June 14, 2012 05:20AM
In the world around us we normally expect that heavy things will move slowly, unless they have a lot of energy behind them. In the quantum mechanical world though, sometimes when something gets heavy and has very little energy, it moves faster than any other time. Researchers at Princeton University have finally performed observations of heavy electrons and how they impact superconductivity.
Researchers have long known that cooling electrons in a material can cause them to gain mass, or at least act like they are more massive particles. No one has quite understood why this happened though because there were no direct observations of the heavy electrons. The new research from Princeton shows that when the electrons are cooled, they entangle properties of the opposite behaviors of being bound to an atom or freely moving about. This is what causes the electrons to act as though they are hundreds to thousands of times more massive than they actually are.
Despite being so heavy though, cooling the material further causes the heavy electrons to enter a superconductive state, which allows them to flow with great speed. This seemingly paradoxical phenomenon has to do with how the entanglement interacts with the material's crystal composition. For some compositions the heavy electrons become magnetically bound to the atoms, and will not conduct, but with small tweaks the supercooled electrons become superconductive.
This is truly great news, and news researchers have been waiting years to get. Not only are heavy electrons finally explained, but the understanding of what causes superconductivity has increased as well. It may still be a while before room temperature superconductors are found, but this discovery may be one of those to lead to that day.