New research has led to a new way to manipulate and learn about superconductors. What kind of tech could this improve?

Jhinhwan Lee

Can you imagine a world without superconductors?

It isn’t easy. From maglev trains to MRIs, they’ve helped us propel industry forward in many ways. Strangely, superconductivity isn’t entirely understood.

Basically, superconductivity is what occurs when electricity is conducted with zero resistance.

The discovery of superconductivity occurred in 1911, and ever since physicists have been attempting to fully understand it. Initially, the discovery required mercury cooled down to 3 K (or -454 F). Over time, that number has raised significantly.

It’s only in the last decade or so that researchers have discovered high-temperature superconductors. Yet still, researchers are hard-pressed to explain exactly how they work.

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This is what makes this latest discovery special. Instead of discovering a new way to create a superconductor, scientists have found a new way to potentially control them. If we can control them, then we stand a better chance of learning how they work.

But before we get to that, let’s get into the details of the research and talk about what exactly was learned.

Learning More About Superconductivity


The researchers for this project hailed from institutions in Korea and the United States, and their work is published in the Dec. 1 edition of Physical Review Letters.

The team worked with a new kind of superconductor for their study called an iron-based superconductor. So far, this type has shown to have a higher operating temperature as well as some other interesting phenomena that make it beneficial to research.

The team used a compound made with strontium (Sr), vanadium (V), oxygen (O), iron (Fe), and arsenic (As), using a structure of alternating FeAs and Sr2VO3 layers.

When they probed it with a spin-polarized scanning tunneling microscope (SPSTM), the spin-polarized current induced a magnetic order referred to as C4 order. Usually, iron-based superconductors sport a C2 order, and wherever the C4 order showed up, superconductivity somehow magically disappeared.

According to Jhinhwan Lee, one of the authors of the paper, this is the first real observation of this phenomena by a local probe.

The team also used an antiferromagnetic chromium (Cr) tip on their SPSTM and compared it with scans taken from an unpolarized tungsten (W) tip. They found that the surface scans were basically the same at low bias voltages, but as that voltage increased the C4 magnetic symmetry became apparent.

According to Lee, these findings may lead to some better ways to control superconductivity. He says, “Our findings may be extended to future studies where magnetism and superconductivity are manipulated using spin-polarized and unpolarized currents, leading to novel antiferromagnetic memory devices and transistors controlling superconductivity,”.

In basic terms, this means that they may be able to make devices which can basically throttle superconductivity. The uses for that could be vast indeed, but to understand the impact this could have, let’s take a moment to see the role that superconductors already play in our lives.

The Superconductors of our Lives

Superconductors have many uses. They are present in all kinds of applications, from the medical field to the military, and anything in between.

For example, can you imagine a world without MRI machines? Superconductor-derived magnetic fields enable this miracle medical tech.

How about things like maglev trains? Superconducting magnets enable maglev trains to ‘float’, reducing friction to nothing and making super-speed possible.

Superconductors on trains

What kinds of uses do you think superconductors will have in the future?

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