Physicists show quantum materials can be tuned for superconductivity | 1/17/2019 | Staff
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Some iron-based superconductors could benefit from a tuneup, according to two studies by Rice University physicists and collaborators.

"Our work demonstrates a new design principle for tuning quantum materials to achieve unconventional superconductivity at higher temperatures," said Rice's Qimiao Si, the lead theoretical physicist on the studies, which investigate unusual patterns of superconductivity that have previously been reported in iron selenide.

Nematicity - Order - Chances - Superconductivity - Electron-pairing

"We show how nematicity, an unusual electronic order, can boost the chances that superconductivity will arise from electron-pairing in specific orbitals," said Si, director of the Rice Center for Quantum Materials (RCQM) and the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of Physics and Astronomy. "Tuning materials to enhance this effect could foster superconductivity at higher temperatures."

Electrical current heats wiring, thanks to the jostling of countless electrons, which lose energy each time they bump something. About 6 percent of electricity on U.S. power grids is lost to this heating, or electrical resistance, each year. In contrast, the electrons in superconductors form pairs that flow effortlessly, without resistance or heat.

Engineers - Superconductivity - Computing - Power - Grids

Engineers have long dreamed of harnessing superconductivity for energy-efficient computing, power grids and more, but electrons are notorious loners, the most-studied member of a quantum family called fermions. Fermions are so opposed to sharing space with one another that they've been known to temporarily wink out of existence instead. Because of their quirky quantum nature, coaxing electrons to form pairs often requires extreme conditions, like intense pressure or temperatures colder than deep space.

Unconventional superconductivity—the kind that occurs in materials like iron selenide—is different. For reasons physicists cannot fully explain, electrons in unconventional superconductors form pairs at relatively high temperatures. The behavior has been documented in dozens of materials over the past 40 years. And while the exact mechanism remains a mystery, physicists like Si have learned to predict how unconventional superconductors will behave...
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