The Meissner Effect

The Meissner effect is the expulsion of a magnetic field from a superconductor during its transition to the superconducting state. Walther Meissner and Robert Ochsenfeld discovered the phenomenon in 1933 by measuring the magnetic field distribution outside superconducting tin and lead samples. The samples, in the presence of an applied magnetic field, were cooled below what is called their superconducting transition temperature. Below the transition temperature the samples canceled nearly all magnetic fields inside. They detected this effect only indirectly; because the magnetic flux is conserved by a superconductor, when the interior field decreased the exterior field increased. The experiment demonstrated for the first time that superconductors were more than just perfect conductors and provided a uniquely defining property of the superconducting state.

Diagram of the Meissner effect. Magnetic field lines, represented as arrows, are excluded from a superconductor when it is below its critical temperature.

In a weak applied field, a superconductor “expels” nearly all magnetic flux. It does this by setting up electric currents near its surface. The magnetic field of these surface currents cancels the applied magnetic field within the bulk of the superconductor. As the field expulsion, or cancellation, does not change with time, the currents producing this effect (called persistent currents) do not decay with time. Therefore the conductivity can be thought of as infinite: a superconductor.

Near the surface, within a distance called the London penetration depth, the magnetic field is not completely canceled. Each superconducting material has its own characteristic penetration depth.

Any perfect conductor will prevent any change to magnetic flux passing through its surface due to ordinary electromagnetic induction at zero resistance. The Meissner effect is distinct from this: when an ordinary conductor is cooled so that it makes the transition to a superconducting state in the presence of a constant applied magnetic field, the magnetic flux is expelled during the transition. This effect cannot be explained by infinite conductivity alone. Its explanation is more complex and was first given in the London equations by the brothers Fritz and Heinz London.

via Meissner effect

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