Discovering How Dopants Affect Superconductors
There are several special technologies the world is watching because once those technologies are better developed they could reshape major parts of our world. Superconductors are one of those technologies as the zero-resistance materials could drastically improve power grids and improve the speed and capabilities of computers. Why materials become superconductors though is not very well understood and now researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that one belief we had about superconductors is likely wrong.
To dope a material is to replace one atom in its structure with a different atom, and this is used to give semiconductors specific properties. Researchers have also doped superconductors because the atoms they add bring with them more electrons to carry a current. As more dopant atoms were added though, researchers had noticed that currents preferred to flow in one direction, and not perpendicular to that direction. What the Brookhaven researchers have found is that this is a direct result of the dopant atoms and not the expression of an intrinsic property of the superconductor being brought out by the dopants.
This discovery could have a great impact on the future of superconductor research by allowing superconductors to be designed with special properties. Something similar happened in the 1970s when the effect of dopants on the electronic properties of semiconductors was discovered, which led to the advanced microelectronics of today.
Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory