Signatures of enhanced superconducting phase coherence in cuprates

The capability to control material properties on short timescales is one of the key challenges of modern condensed matter physics. This possibility becomes even more attractive in the case of intriguing material phases, such as superconductivity. As a matter of fact, despite the evolution of non-equilibrium spectroscopies of the last two decades have increased our understanding of the physics of strongly correlated materials, after more than 30 years from its discovery, High Temperature Superconductivity is still discussed and a clear and unanimous explanation of the origin of the phenomenon is still lacking. Moreover, the understanding of the phenomena at the basis of this effects could affect several technological applications, from the need for fast digital circuits and for speeding up computer performances, to the detection of very low magnetic fields, with implication in geology (mineral exploration and earthquake prediction), medical sciences (neuron activity and magnetic resonance), oil prospecting and, of course, research.
We focused our research on cuprates, a class of materials known for displaying unconventional superconductivity at relatively temperatures, and on which various studies have shown the possibility of turning off (and, to some extent, on) superconductivity by ultrashort light pulses. In our work, we reveal that light pulses characterized by long wavelength (and a peculiar polarization) can induce, for a very short time interval (1-2 ps), a state displaying superconductivity even above the critical temperature, i.e. in conditions where superconductivity is not observed at equilibrium.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Figure: Difference between the transient reflectivity due to Cu-Cu and Cu-O polarized pump in time and temperature, induced by excitations with (a) 70 and (b) 170 meV pump photon energies. The dashed lines highlight the critical temperature Tc.

Spin-momentum locking in cuprate high-temperature superconductors

The results open a new chapter in the mystery of high-temperature superconductors, suggesting that new, unexplored interactions and mechanisms might be at play.

In the world of superconductors, “high temperature” means that the material can conduct electricity without resistance at temperatures higher than expected, but still far below room temperature. Within this special class of high-temperature superconductors (HTSCs), cuprates—consisting of superconducting CuO2 layers separated by spacer layers—are some of the best performers, generating interest in these materials for potential use in super-efficient electrical wires that can carry power without any loss of electron momentum.

A new spin on cuprate HTSCs

Two kinds of electron interactions have been known to give rise to novel properties in new materials, including superconductors. Scientists who study cuprate superconductors have focused on just one of those interactions: electron correlation—electrons interacting with each other. The other kind of electron interaction found in exotic materials is spin-orbit coupling—the way in which an electron’s magnetic moment interacts with atoms in the material.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Chris Jozwiak, Alessandra Lanzara, Kenneth Gotlieb, and Chiu-Yun Lin.
Credit: Peter DaSilva/Berkeley Lab

The first observation of near-room-temperature superconductivity

For decades, room-temperature superconductivity has been one of physics’ ultimate goals, a Holy Grail-like objective that seems to keep drifting within realization yet always stubbornly out of reach. Various materials, theories, and techniques have been proposed and explored in search of this objective, but its realization has remained elusive. Yet recent experimental work on hydrogen-rich materials at high pressures is finally opening the pathway to practical superconductivity and its vast potential. Russell Hemley, a materials chemist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., first announced evidence of superconductivity at 260 K in May, 2018, and then hints of an even higher 280 K transition in August of that year. Now Hemley, along with a team of researchers from The George Washington University and the Carnegie Institution for Science synthesized several lanthanum superhydride materials that demonstrated the first experimental evidence of superconductivity at near room temperature, and with colleagues from Argonne National Laboratory characterized them at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS). Read more

Pressure tuning of light-induced superconductivity in K3C60

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological application is hindered by their low operating temperature, which in the best case can reach -70 degrees Celsius. Researchers of the group of Prof. A. Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute of the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg have routinely used intense laser pulses to stimulate different classes of superconducting materials. Under specific conditions, they have detected evidences of superconductivity at unprecedented high temperatures, although this state persisted very shortly, just for a small fraction of a second.
An important example is that of K3C60, an organic molecular solidformed by weakly-interacting C60 “buckyball” molecules (60 carbon atoms bond in the shape of a football),which is superconducting at equilibrium below a critical temperature of -250 degrees Celsius. In 2016, Mitrano and coworkers at the MPSD discovered that tailored laserpulses, tuned to induce vibrations of the C60 molecules,can induce a short-lived, highly conducting state with properties identical to those of a superconductor, up to a temperature of at least -170 degrees Celsius, far higher than the equilibrium critical temperature (Mitrano et al., Nature, 530, 461–464 (2016)).

In their most recent investigation, A. Cantaluppi, M. Buzzi and colleagues at MPSD in Hamburg went a decisive step further by monitoring the evolution of the light-induced state in K3C60 once external pressure was applied by a diamond anvil cell (Figure 1). At equilibrium, when pressure is applied, the C60 molecules in the potassium-doped fulleride are held closer to each other. This weakens the equilibrium superconducting state and significantly reduces the critical temperature. The steady state optical response of K3C60 at different pressures and temperatures was determined via Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, by exploiting the high brightness of the synchrotron radiation available at the infrared beamline SISSI at Elettra.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Image:   Light-induced superconductivity in K3C60 was investigated at high pressure in a Diamond Anvil Cell.
Jörg Harms / MPSD