A new study shows that nickel oxide superconductors, which conduct electricity losslessly at higher temperatures than conventional superconductors, contain a type of quantum matter called charge density waves, or CDWs, which can support superconductivity.
The presence of CDW shows that these recently discovered materials, also known as nickelates, are capable of forming correlated states – “electron soups” that can host a variety of quantum phases, including superconductivity, researchers from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University reported in Natural Physics today.
“Unlike any other superconductor we know of, CDWs appear even before we dope the material by replacing some atoms with others to change the number of free electrons to move around,” said scientist Wei-Sheng Lee. and SLAC Principal Investigator. with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science (SIMES) which led the study.
“This makes nickelates a very interesting new system, a new playground for studying unconventional superconductors.”
Nickelates and cuprates
In the 35 years since the discovery of the first unconventional “high-temperature” superconductors, researchers have struggled to find one capable of carrying electricity without loss at near room temperature. It would be a game-changing development, enabling things like perfectly efficient power lines, maglev trains, and a host of other futuristic, energy-efficient technologies.
But while a vigorous global research effort has identified many aspects of their nature and behavior, people still don’t know exactly how these materials become superconductors.
Thus, the discovery of the superconducting powers of nickelate by SIMES researchers three years ago was exciting because it gave scientists a new perspective on the problem.
Since then, SIMES researchers have explored the electronic structure of nickelates – essentially the behavior of their electrons – and their magnetic behavior. These studies revealed important similarities and subtle differences between nickelates and copper oxides or cuprates – the first high-temperature superconductors ever discovered and which still hold the world record for high-temperature operation at everyday pressures.
Since nickel and copper are found side by side on the periodic table of elements, scientists weren’t surprised to see a kinship and had in fact suspected that nickelates might make good superconductors. But it turned out to be extremely difficult to build materials with exactly the right characteristics.
“It’s still very new,” Lee said. “People are still struggling to synthesize thin films of these materials and understand how different conditions can affect the underlying microscopic mechanisms related to superconductivity.”
Ripples of frozen electrons
CDWs are just one of the strange states of matter that jostle for prominence in superconducting materials. You can think of them as a pattern of frozen electron ripples superimposed on the atomic structure of the material, with higher electron density in the peaks of the ripples and lower electron density in the valleys.
As researchers adjust the material’s temperature and doping level, various states appear and disappear. When conditions are ideal, the electrons in the material lose their individual identity and form an electron soup, and quantum states such as superconductivity and CDWs can emerge.
A previous study by the SIMES group did not find CDW in nickelates containing the rare earth element neodymium. But in this latest study, the SIMES team created and examined another nickelate material where neodymium was replaced by another rare earth element, lanthanum.
“The emergence of CDWs can be very sensitive to factors such as tension or disorder in their environment, which can be tuned by using different rare-earth elements,” explained Matteo Rossi, who led the experiments while he was a postdoctoral researcher at SLAC.
The team carried out experiments on three X-ray light sources: the Diamond Light Source in the UK, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC, and the Advanced Light Source at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Each of these facilities offered specialized tools to probe and understand the material at a fundamental level. All experiments had to be performed remotely due to pandemic restrictions.
The experiments showed that this nickelate could harbor both CDWs and superconducting states of matter, and that these states were present even before the material was doped. This was surprising, since doping is usually an essential element in bringing materials into superconductivity.
Lee said the fact that this nickelate is essentially self-doping makes it significantly different from cuprates.
“This makes nickelates a very interesting new system to study how these quantum phases compete or intertwine,” he said. “And that means many of the tools used to study other unconventional superconductors may also be relevant to this one.”
First study of nickelate magnetism reveals strong relationship to cuprate superconductors
Wei-Sheng Lee, A State of Broken Translational Symmetry in an Infinitely Layered Nickelate, Natural Physics (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41567-022-01660-6. www.nature.com/articles/s41567-022-01660-6
Provided by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Quote: New Leap in Understanding Nickel Oxide Superconductors (2022, July 25) Retrieved July 26, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-nickel-oxide-superconductors.html
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