Superconductivity in Orbit: Scientists Find New Path to Loss-Free Electricity

By: Jennifer Rocha

Brookhaven Lab researchers captured the distribution of multiple orbital electrons to help explain the emergence of superconductivity in iron-based materials

Story content courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, US

Armed with just the right atomic arrangements, superconductors allow electricity to flow without loss and radically enhance energy generation, delivery, and storage.  Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have combined atoms with multiple orbitals and precisely pinned down their electron distributions. Using advanced electron diffraction techniques, the scientists discovered that orbital fluctuations in iron-based compounds induce strongly coupled polarizations that can enhance electron pairing-the essential mechanism behind superconductivity. The study, set to publish soon, provides a breakthrough method for exploring and improving superconductivity in a wide range of new materials.

“High-temperature copper-oxide superconductors, or cuprates, contain in effect a single orbital and lack the degree of freedom to accommodate strong enough interactions between electricity and the lattice,” said Brookhaven Lab physicist and study coauthor Weiguo Yin. “But the barium iron arsenic we tested has multi-orbital electrons that push and pull the lattice in much more flexible and complex ways, for example by inter-orbital electron redistribution. This feature is especially promising because electricity can shift arsenic’s electron cloud much more easily than oxygen’s.”

The experimental work at Brookhaven Lab was supported by DOE’s Office of Science. The materials synthesis was carried out at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physics. Brookhaven Lab coauthors of the study also include Chao Ma, Lijun Wu, and Chris Homes.

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