Using a set of experimental techniques, scientists found a way to track and measure subatomic interactions that arise in superconducting materials.

The phenomenon of superconductivity occurs when electrons interact with atoms in a crystalline solid.

The collective vibration of atoms in a superconducting crystal lattice constitute what’s known as phonons, which are energy deformations that propagate throughout the crystal lattice.

Energy gains or losses in superconducting crystals are proportional to the frequencies of vibrations.

The interactions within superconducting systems like energy flows (heat loss), happen at such incredible speed and small scale that it’s very hard to track them.

Physicists knew about these interactions in theory but were unable to measure them directly in quantum systems until now.

Now, scientists have managed to observe and measure electron-lattice dynamics in a superconducting solid material.

Fleeting Quantum Dynamics in Superconductors now Measurable

A research team, led by experts from the U.S. DOE’ Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), reported their achievement in tracking interactions between electrons and a superconducting crystal solid.

 “This breakthrough offers direct, fundamental insight into the puzzling characteristics of these remarkable materials,” said BNL’s Yimei Zhu, research leader. “We already had evidence of how lattice vibrations impact electron activity and disperse heat, but it was all through deduction. Now, finally, we can see it directly.”

Working on copper-oxide superconductors, the team was able to take precise measurements of transient electron-lattice interactions, some of which last for less than one trillionth of a second.

To detect energy flows through vibrations in the lattice, researchers used a set of sophisticated experimental techniques, like Photoemission Spectroscopy (PES) and Ultrafast Electron Diffraction (UED).

To describe this in nature’s terms, energy flowing through the crystal superconductor structure is like how rainwater feeds a tree.

Although the whole system is exposed to energy flows, only “phonons” get to interact with them first, like tree roots, before redistributing them through the “crystalline tree”.

 “Here, the water is like energy, raining down on the branching structure of the superconductor, and the soil is like our electrons,” said Tatiana Konstantinova, lead author of the paper, “But those electrons will only interact with certain phonons, which, in turn, redistribute the energy. Those phonons are like the hidden, highly interactive ‘roots’ that we needed to detect.”

This experiment is a breakthrough that helps researcher develop a better understanding of the quantum superconductivity phenomenon.

By gaining the ability to record and monitor energy flows in superconductors, scientists have made another big step toward viable high-performing quantum devices.

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