Many technologies have changed the world the moment they are invented as they trivialize challenges. One technology yet to be invented that will have a similar impact is room temperature superconductors, which will allow electrical currents to flow with no loss. Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cornell University and others have successfully observed something that could bring us closer to the day such superconductors are realized.
Conventional superconductors only become superconducting at extremely low temperatures when vibrations in their crystal lattices are able to couple electrons together, so they may flow without resistance. Unconventional superconductors, which can be superconducting at higher temperatures, rely on a different mechanism that may be related to the materials' magnetism. To test this, the researchers had to develop a microscopy technique capable of distinguishing energy levels orders of magnitude smaller than the energy of a single photon. They then placed CeCoIn5, an unconventional superconductor, into the microscope and shot bursts of energy at it to break apart the superconducting electron pairs on it. The electrons would fly off in different directions, striking impurities and forming an interference pattern, which can be used to determine if magnetism mediated the bonding between the electrons.
The researchers' unprecedented study has shown that indeed the material's magnetism does lead to the electron pairing. With this knowledge it should become possible to write the equations that describe the superconducting mechanism in this and other materials, and potentially lead to new materials with better properties.
Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory