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Friday, 2 September 2011

Superconductivity-Related Materials Retain Shape but Change Properties Under Strain

University of Arkansas
Sept 1, 2011

A University of Arkansas physicist and his colleagues have found that ultra-thin films of superconductors and related materials don’t lose their fundamental properties when built under strain when built as atomically thin layers, an important step towards achieving artificially designed room temperature superconductivity. This ability will allow researchers to create new types of materials and properties and enable exotic electronic phases in ultra-thin films.

Jak Chakhalian, University of Arkansas professor of physics, and his colleagues reported their findings in Physical Review Letters.

Room temperature superconductivity would change the world’s economy, Chakhalian contends. To start, superconductors can carry electricity without losing energy to heat during transmission the way all of today’s materials do. Today’s power grid loses almost 15 percent of its energy to heat. That may not seem like a high number, but it translates into a multi-billion dollar loss. Scientists have looked at many solutions to increase energy efficiency, but Chakhalian seeks radical energy solutions, like a material that acts as a room-temperature superconductor.

“With a superconductor, you could redistribute energy around the globe with zero loss,” he said.

Room-temperature superconductivity remains a dream, but the findings of Chakhalian’s team may bring it closer to reality. Scientists have known for years that putting together two simple metals, semiconducting or ferroelectric materials of different sizes causes a strain that makes those materials stretch or compress to adjust the positions of atoms to match each other, often introducing defects and making them lose their ability to conduct electricity. This basic principle has been routinely applied to microelectronics devices used in everything from cell phones to computers to solar cells. Until recently, many researchers believed the same principle applied to high temperature superconducting and other exotic electronic materials at the nanoscale. They believed that combining these materials under strain also would modify their metallic and superconducting properties and may turn into insulators.
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