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Scientists observe how superconducting nanowires lose resistance-free state
Date:9/22/2011

DURHAM, N.C. -- Even with today's invisibility cloaks, people can't walk through walls. But, when paired together, millions of electrons can.

The electrons perform this trick, called macroscopic quantum tunneling, when they pair up and move into a region of space that is normally off-limits under the laws of classical mechanics. The problem is that as millions of electrons collectively move through a superconducting nanowire, they use energy and give off heat.

The heat can build, transforming sections of the wire into a non-superconducting state. The process, called a phase slip, adds resistance to an electrical system and has implications for designing new nano-scale superconductors.

Now, scientists have observed individual phase slips in aluminum nanowires and characterized the nature and temperature at which they occur. This information could help scientists remove phase slips from nano-scale systems, which could lead to more reliable nanowires and more efficient nano-electronics, said Duke physicist Albert Chang.

The results appeared online Sept. 21 in Physical Review Letters.

The macroscopic quantum tunneling effect was first observed in a system called a Josephson junction. This device has a thin insulating layer connecting two superconductors, which are several nanometers wide and have a three-dimensional shape.

To study the tunneling and phase slips in a simpler system, however, Chang and his colleagues used individual, one-dimensional nanowires made of aluminum. The new observations are "arguably the first convincing demonstration of tunneling of millions of electrons in one-dimensional superconducting nanowires," said Chang, who led the study.

In the experiment, the wires ranged in length from 1.5 to 10 micrometers, with widths from five to 10 nanometers. Chang cooled the wires to a temperature close to absolute zero, roughly 1 degree Kelvin or -458 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Contact: Ashley Yeager
ashley.yeager@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert

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