Scientists find new path to loss-free electricity

These images show the distribution of the valence electrons in the samples explored by the Brookhaven Lab collaboration — both feature a central iron layer sandwiched between arsenic atoms. The tiny red clouds (more electrons) in the undoped sample on the left (BaFe2As2) reveal the weak charge quadrupole of the iron atom, while the blue clouds (fewer electrons) around the outer arsenic ions show weak polarization. The superconducting sample on the right (doped with cobalt atoms), however, exhibits a strong quadrupole in the center and the pronounced polarization of the arsenic atoms, as evidenced by the large, red balloons. Credit: Brookhaven National Lab
 

Armed with just the right atomic arrangements, superconductors allow electricity to flow without loss and radically enhance energy generation, delivery, and storage. Scientists tweak these superconductor recipes by swapping out elements or manipulating the valence electrons in an atom’s outermost orbital shell to strike the perfect conductive balance. Most high-temperature superconductors contain atoms with only one orbital impacting performance—but what about mixing those elements with more complex configurations?

Now, 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 in the journal Physical Review Letters, provides a breakthrough method for exploring and improving superconductivity in a wide range of new materials.

“For the first time, we obtained direct experimental evidence of the subtle changes in electron orbitals by comparing an unaltered, non-superconducting material with its doped, superconducting twin,” said Brookhaven Lab physicist and project leader Yimei Zhu. More here physorg

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