> New property in warm superconductors discovered

New property in warm superconductors discovered

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Contact:
Jeff Sonier, 778.782.4223/5506; jsonier@sfu.ca
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035; cthorbes@sfu.ca


November 17, 2010
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Led by Simon Fraser University physicist Jeff Sonier, scientists at TRIUMF have discovered something that they think may severely hinder one route for the creation of room-temperature (20-25 degrees Celsius) superconductors.

For 25 years, they’ve speculated that some forms of magnetism could be a problem.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published the finding that there is an unusual weak magnetism in a certain type of lanthanum-based copper oxide material. It belongs to a class of so-called  “high” temperature superconductors.

SFU physicist Jeff Sonier says: “The search for room-temperature superconductivity is big news. The cover story of the June 2010 issue of Scientific American predicted the discovery would be one of the ‘12 events that will change everything.’”

Superconductors, materials that have zero electrical resistance, could potentially drive everyday devices in electronics, medicine and transportation, but are super expensive because they only operate at extremely low temperatures. If superconductors were operational at room temperature they wouldn’t need to be driven by expensive cooling systems using liquid helium.

When charge carriers are added to copper oxide materials, known as cuprates, they are capable of superconductivity. Some cuprates function as high as -135 degrees Celsius, a temperature markedly above the normal operational temperature of all other kinds of superconducting materials. It’s also high enough to use less expensive liquid nitrogen as a coolant.

Adding charge carriers (electric charge carrying particle) is known as chemical doping. With increased chemical doping the operational temperature of a cuprate superconductor rises to a certain point and then collapses.

Until this latest research, scientists could only speculate on whether a competing magnetic phase might exist at high chemical doping, which could ultimately destroy superconductivity.

Sonier and his colleagues used a subatomic particle, called a muon, to microscopically probe the magnetic nature of a lanthanum-based cuprate. This led them to discover that a strange kind of magnetism appears to accompany the destruction of superconductivity at high chemical doping.

The scientists are now trying to figure out the origin of the magnetism and whether it actually competes with superconductivity.

Sonier says, “Understanding what destroys superconductivity at high chemical doping could provide a vital clue about the microscopic mechanism responsible for high-temperature superconductivity. Knowledge of this would be a monumental step toward making a room-temperature superconductor.”

A consortium of universities, including SFU, own and operate Vancouver-based TRIUMF. It is Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, and has a strong molecular and materials science program.

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