Argonne scientists discover mechanism behind superinsulation
Discovery may lead to new types of electronics
Story Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered the microscopic mechanism behind the phenomenon of superinsulation, the ability of certain materials to completely block the flow of electric current at low temperatures. The essence of the mechanism is what the authors termed "multi-stage energy relaxation."
Argonne scientist Valerii Vinokour, along with Russian scientists Tatyana Baturina and Nikolai Chtchelkatchev, found that at very low temperatures the energy transfer from tunneling electrons to the thermal environment may occur in several stages. Because the current transfer in thin films and granular systems that exhibit superinsulating behavior relies on electron tunneling, the multistage relaxation explains the origin of the superinsulators.
Superinsulation is the opposite of superconductivity; instead of a material that has no resistivity, a superinsulator has a near-infinite resistance. Integration of the two materials may allow for the creation of a new class of quantum electronic devices. This discovery may one day allow researchers to create super-sensitive sensors and other electronic devices.