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Nov 27, 2020

Ultracold atoms put high-temperature superconductors under the microscope

Posted by in categories: particle physics, quantum physics

Physicists use a Bose-Einstein condensate to study phase transitions in an iron pnictide superconductor.


Physicists have deployed a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) as a “quantum microscope” to study phase transitions in a high-temperature superconductor. The experiment marks the first time a BEC has been used to probe such a complicated condensed-matter phenomenon, and the results – a solution to a puzzle involving transition temperatures in iron pnictide superconductors – suggest that the technique could help untangle the complex factors that enhance and inhibit high-temperature superconductivity.

A BEC is a state of matter that forms when a gas of bosons (particles with integer quantum spin) is cooled to such low temperatures that all the bosons fall into the same quantum state. Under these conditions, the bosons are highly sensitive to tiny fluctuations in the local magnetic field, which perturb their collective wavefunction and create patches of greater and lesser density in the gas. These variations in density can then be detected using optical techniques.

The new instrument, known as a scanning quantum cryogenic atom microscope (SQCRAMscope), puts this magnetic field sensitivity to practical use. “Our SQCRAMscope is basically like a microscope – a big lens, focusing light down on a sample, looking at the reflected light – except right at the focus we have a collection of quantum atoms that transduces the magnetic field into a light field,” explains team leader Benjamin Lev, a physicist at Stanford University in the US. “It’s a quantum gas transducer.”

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