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A magnet levitating above a high-temperature superconductor, cooled with liquid nitrogen. Persistent electric current flows on the surface of the superconductor, acting to exclude the magnetic field of the magnet (the Faraday's law of induction). This current effectively forms an electromagnet that repels the magnet.
a high-temperature superconductor levitating above magnet

Superconductivity occurs in certain materials at very low temperatures. When superconductive, a material has an electrical resistance of exactly zero. It was discovered by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911. Like ferromagnetism and atomic spectral lines, superconductivity is a quantum mechanical phenomenon. It is also characterized by a phenomenon called the Meissner effect. This is the ejection of any sufficiently weak magnetic field from the interior of the superconductor as it transitions into the superconducting state. The presence of the Meissner effect indicates that superconductivity cannot be understood simply as the idealization of "perfect conductivity" in classical physics.

The electrical resistivity of a metallic conductor decreases gradually as the temperature is lowered. However, in ordinary conductors such as copper and silver, this decrease is limited by impurities and other defects. Even near absolute zero, a real sample of copper shows some resistance. In a superconductor however, despite these imperfections, the resistance drops abruptly to zero when the material is cooled below its critical temperature. An electric current flowing in a loop of superconducting wire can persist indefinitely with no power source.[1]

Superconductivity occurs in many materials: simple elements like tin and aluminium, various metallic alloys and some heavily-doped semiconductors. Superconductivity does not occur in noble metals like gold and silver, nor in pure samples of ferromagnetic metals.

In 1986, it was discovered that some cuprate-perovskite ceramic materials have critical temperatures of more than 90 kelvins. These high-temperature superconductors renewed interest in the topic because (at that time) the current theory could not explain them (they are now well explained by theory). From a practical perspective, 90 kelvins is easy to reach with the readily available liquid nitrogen (boiling point 77 kelvins). This means more experimentation and more commercial applications are feasible, especially if materials with even higher critical temperatures could be discovered.

See also the history of superconductivity.



There is not just one criterion to classify superconductors. The most common are

Elementary properties of superconductors

Most of the physical properties of superconductors vary from material to material, such as the heat capacity and the critical temperature, critical field, and critical current density at which superconductivity is destroyed.

On the other hand, there is a class of properties that are independent of the underlying material. For instance, all superconductors have exactly zero resistivity to low applied currents when there is no magnetic field present or if the applied field does not exceed a critical value. The existence of these "universal" properties implies that superconductivity is a thermodynamic phase, and thus possesses certain distinguishing properties which are largely independent of microscopic details.


Zero electrical "dc" resistance

Electric cables for accelerators at CERN: top, regular cables for LEP; bottom, superconducting cables for the LHC.

The simplest method to measure the electrical resistance of a sample of some material is to place it in an electrical circuit in series with a current source I and measure the resulting voltage V across the sample. The resistance of the sample is given by Ohm's law as R = V/I. If the voltage is zero, this means that the resistance is zero and that the sample is in the superconducting state.

Superconductors are also able to maintain a current with no applied voltage whatsoever, a property exploited in superconducting electromagnets such as those found in MRI machines. Experiments have demonstrated that currents in superconducting coils can persist for years without any measurable degradation. Experimental evidence points to a current lifetime of at least 100,000 years. Theoretical estimates for the lifetime of a persistent current can exceed the estimated lifetime of the universe, depending on the wire geometry and the temperature. Thus, a superconductor does not have exactly zero resistance; however, the resistance is negligibly small.[1]

In a normal conductor, an electrical current may be visualized as a fluid of electrons moving across a heavy ionic lattice. The electrons are constantly colliding with the ions in the lattice, and during each collision some of the energy carried by the current is absorbed by the lattice and converted into heat, which is essentially the vibrational kinetic energy of the lattice ions. As a result, the energy carried by the current is constantly being dissipated. This is the phenomenon of electrical resistance.

The situation is different in a superconductor. In a conventional superconductor, the electronic fluid cannot be resolved into individual electrons. Instead, it consists of bound pairs of electrons known as Cooper pairs. This pairing is caused by an attractive force between electrons from the exchange of phonons. Due to quantum mechanics, the energy spectrum of this Cooper pair fluid possesses an energy gap, meaning there is a minimum amount of energy ΔE that must be supplied in order to excite the fluid. Therefore, if ΔE is larger than the thermal energy of the lattice, given by kT, where k is Boltzmann's constant and T is the temperature, the fluid will not be scattered by the lattice. The Cooper pair fluid is thus a superfluid, meaning it can flow without energy dissipation.

In a class of superconductors known as Type II superconductors, including all known high-temperature superconductors, an extremely small amount of resistivity appears at temperatures not too far below the nominal superconducting transition when an electrical current is applied in conjunction with a strong magnetic field, which may be caused by the electrical current. This is due to the motion of vortices in the electronic superfluid, which dissipates some of the energy carried by the current. If the current is sufficiently small, the vortices are stationary, and the resistivity vanishes. The resistance due to this effect is tiny compared with that of non-superconducting materials, but must be taken into account in sensitive experiments. However, as the temperature decreases far enough below the nominal superconducting transition, these vortices can become frozen into a disordered but stationary phase known as a "vortex glass". Below this vortex glass transition temperature, the resistance of the material becomes truly zero.

Superconducting phase transition

Behavior of heat capacity (cv, blue) and resistivity (ρ, green) at the superconducting phase transition

In superconducting materials, the characteristics of superconductivity appear when the temperature T is lowered below a critical temperature Tc. The value of this critical temperature varies from material to material. Conventional superconductors usually have critical temperatures ranging from around 20 K to less than 1 K. Solid mercury, for example, has a critical temperature of 4.2 K. As of 2009, the highest critical temperature found for a conventional superconductor is 39 K for magnesium diboride (MgB2),[2][3] although this material displays enough exotic properties that there is some doubt about classifying it as a "conventional" superconductor.[4] Cuprate superconductors can have much higher critical temperatures: YBa2Cu3O7, one of the first cuprate superconductors to be discovered, has a critical temperature of 92 K, and mercury-based cuprates have been found with critical temperatures in excess of 130 K. The explanation for these high critical temperatures remains unknown. Electron pairing due to phonon exchanges explains superconductivity in conventional superconductors, but it does not explain superconductivity in the newer superconductors that have a very high critical temperature.

Similarly, at a fixed temperature below the critical temperature, superconducting materials cease to superconduct when an external magnetic field is applied which is greater than the critical magnetic field. This is because the Gibbs free energy of the superconducting phase increases quadratically with the magnetic field while the free energy of the normal phase is roughly independent of the magnetic field. If the material superconducts in the absence of a field, then the superconducting phase free energy is lower than that of the normal phase and so for some finite value of the magnetic field (proportional to the square root of the difference of the free energies at zero magnetic field) the two free energies will be equal and a phase transition to the normal phase will occur. More generally, a higher temperature and a stronger magnetic field lead to a smaller fraction of the electrons in the superconducting band and consequently a longer London penetration depth of external magnetic fields and currents. The penetration depth becomes infinite at the phase transition.

The onset of superconductivity is accompanied by abrupt changes in various physical properties, which is the hallmark of a phase transition. For example, the electronic heat capacity is proportional to the temperature in the normal (non-superconducting) regime. At the superconducting transition, it suffers a discontinuous jump and thereafter ceases to be linear. At low temperatures, it varies instead as e−α /T for some constant α. This exponential behavior is one of the pieces of evidence for the existence of the energy gap.

The order of the superconducting phase transition was long a matter of debate. Experiments indicate that the transition is second-order, meaning there is no latent heat. However in the presence of an external magnetic field there is latent heat, as a result of the fact that the superconducting phase has a lower entropy below the critical temperature than the normal phase. It has been experimentally demonstrated[5] that, as a consequence, when the magnetic field is increased beyond the critical field, the resulting phase transition leads to a decrease in the temperature of the superconducting material.

Calculations in the 1970s suggested that it may actually be weakly first-order due to the effect of long-range fluctuations in the electromagnetic field. In the 1980s it was shown theoretically with the help of a disorder field theory, in which the vortex lines of the superconductor play a major role, that the transition is of second order within the type II regime and of first order (i.e., latent heat) within the type I regime, and that the two regions are separated by a tricritical point.[6] The results were confirmed by Monte Carlo computer simulations.[7]

Meissner effect

When a superconductor is placed in a weak external magnetic field H, and cooled below its transition temperature, the magnetic field is ejected. The Meissner effect does not cause the field to be completely ejected but instead the field penetrates the superconductor but only to a very small distance, characterized by a parameter λ, called the London penetration depth, decaying exponentially to zero within the bulk of the material. The Meissner effect, is a defining characteristic of superconductivity. For most superconductors, the London penetration depth is on the order of 100 nm.

The Meissner effect is sometimes confused with the kind of diamagnetism one would expect in a perfect electrical conductor: according to Lenz's law, when a changing magnetic field is applied to a conductor, it will induce an electrical current in the conductor that creates an opposing magnetic field. In a perfect conductor, an arbitrarily large current can be induced, and the resulting magnetic field exactly cancels the applied field.

The Meissner effect is distinct from this—it is the spontaneous expulsion which occurs during transition to superconductivity. Suppose we have a material in its normal state, containing a constant internal magnetic field. When the material is cooled below the critical temperature, we would observe the abrupt expulsion of the internal magnetic field, which we would not expect based on Lenz's law.

The Meissner effect was given a phenomenological explanation by the brothers Fritz and Heinz London, who showed that the electromagnetic free energy in a superconductor is minimized provided

 \nabla^2\mathbf{H} = \lambda^{-2} \mathbf{H}\,

where H is the magnetic field and λ is the London penetration depth.

This equation, which is known as the London equation, predicts that the magnetic field in a superconductor decays exponentially from whatever value it possesses at the surface.

A superconductor with little or no magnetic field within it is said to be in the Meissner state. The Meissner state breaks down when the applied magnetic field is too large. Superconductors can be divided into two classes according to how this breakdown occurs. In Type I superconductors, superconductivity is abruptly destroyed when the strength of the applied field rises above a critical value Hc. Depending on the geometry of the sample, one may obtain an intermediate state[8] consisting of a baroque pattern[9] of regions of normal material carrying a magnetic field mixed with regions of superconducting material containing no field. In Type II superconductors, raising the applied field past a critical value Hc1 leads to a mixed state (also known as the vortex state) in which an increasing amount of magnetic flux penetrates the material, but there remains no resistance to the flow of electrical current as long as the current is not too large. At a second critical field strength Hc2, superconductivity is destroyed. The mixed state is actually caused by vortices in the electronic superfluid, sometimes called fluxons because the flux carried by these vortices is quantized. Most pure elemental superconductors, except niobium, technetium, vanadium and carbon nanotubes, are Type I, while almost all impure and compound superconductors are Type II.

London moment

Conversely, a spinning superconductor generates a magnetic field, precisely aligned with the spin axis. The effect, the London moment, was put to good use in Gravity Probe B. This experiment measured the magnetic fields of four superconducting gyroscopes to determine their spin axes. This was critical to the experiment since it is one of the few ways to accurately determine the spin axis of an otherwise featureless sphere.

Theories of superconductivity

Since discovery of superconductivity, great efforts have been devoted to finding out how and why it works. During the 1950s, theoretical condensed matter physicists arrived at a solid understanding of "conventional" superconductivity, through a pair of remarkable and important theories: the phenomenological Ginzburg-Landau theory (1950) and the microscopic BCS theory (1957).[10][11] Generalizations of these theories form the basis for understanding the closely related phenomenon of superfluidity, because they fall into the Lambda transition universality class, but the extent to which similar generalizations can be applied to unconventional superconductors as well is still controversial. The four-dimensional extension of the Ginzburg-Landau theory, the Coleman-Weinberg model, is important in quantum field theory and cosmology.

History of superconductivity

Superconductivity was discovered in 1911 by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, who was studying the resistance of solid mercury at cryogenic temperatures using the recently-discovered liquid helium as a refrigerant. At the temperature of 4.2 K, he observed that the resistance abruptly disappeared.[12] In subsequent decades, superconductivity was found in several other materials. In 1913, lead was found to superconduct at 7 K, and in 1941 niobium nitride was found to superconduct at 16 K.

The next important step in understanding superconductivity occurred in 1933, when Meissner and Ochsenfeld discovered that superconductors expelled applied magnetic fields, a phenomenon which has come to be known as the Meissner effect.[13] In 1935, F. and H. London showed that the Meissner effect was a consequence of the minimization of the electromagnetic free energy carried by superconducting current.[14]

In 1950, the phenomenological Ginzburg-Landau theory of superconductivity was devised by Landau and Ginzburg.[15] This theory, which combined Landau's theory of second-order phase transitions with a Schrödinger-like wave equation, had great success in explaining the macroscopic properties of superconductors. In particular, Abrikosov showed that Ginzburg-Landau theory predicts the division of superconductors into the two categories now referred to as Type I and Type II. Abrikosov and Ginzburg were awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for their work (Landau had received the 1962 Nobel Prize for other work, and died in 1968).

Also in 1950, Maxwell and Reynolds et al. found that the critical temperature of a superconductor depends on the isotopic mass of the constituent element.[16][17] This important discovery pointed to the electron-phonon interaction as the microscopic mechanism responsible for superconductivity.

The complete microscopic theory of superconductivity was finally proposed in 1957 by Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer.[11] Independently, the superconductivity phenomenon was explained by Nikolay Bogolyubov. This BCS theory explained the superconducting current as a superfluid of Cooper pairs, pairs of electrons interacting through the exchange of phonons. For this work, the authors were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1972.

The BCS theory was set on a firmer footing in 1958, when Bogoliubov showed that the BCS wavefunction, which had originally been derived from a variational argument, could be obtained using a canonical transformation of the electronic Hamiltonian.[18] In 1959, Lev Gor'kov showed that the BCS theory reduced to the Ginzburg-Landau theory close to the critical temperature.[19]

In 1962, the first commercial superconducting wire, a niobium-titanium alloy, was developed by researchers at Westinghouse, allowing the construction of the first practical superconducting magnets. In the same year, Josephson made the important theoretical prediction that a supercurrent can flow between two pieces of superconductor separated by a thin layer of insulator.[20] This phenomenon, now called the Josephson effect, is exploited by superconducting devices such as SQUIDs. It is used in the most accurate available measurements of the magnetic flux quantum \Phi_0 = \frac{h}{2e}, and thus (coupled with the quantum Hall resistivity) for Planck's constant h. Josephson was awarded the Nobel Prize for this work in 1973.

In 2008 it was discovered by Valerii Vinokur and Tatyana Baturina that the same mechanism that produces superconductivity could produce a superinsulator state in some materials, with almost infinite electrical resistance.[21]

High temperature superconductivity

Until 1986, physicists had believed that BCS theory forbade superconductivity at temperatures above about 30 K. In that year, Bednorz and Müller discovered superconductivity in a lanthanum-based cuprate perovskite material, which had a transition temperature of 35 K (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1987).[22] It was shortly found that replacing the lanthanum with yttrium, i.e. making YBCO, raised the critical temperature to 92 K, which was important because liquid nitrogen could then be used as a refrigerant (at atmospheric pressure, the boiling point of nitrogen is 77 K).[23] This is important commercially because liquid nitrogen can be produced cheaply on-site from air, and is not prone to some of the problems (for instance solid air plugs) of helium in piping. Many other cuprate superconductors have since been discovered, and the theory of superconductivity in these materials was one of the major outstanding challenges of theoretical condensed matter physics. All unusual properties of the high-temperature superconductors that were discovered in the 1980's can now be explained.[24]

From about 1993, the highest temperature superconductor was a ceramic material consisting of thallium, mercury, copper, barium, calcium and oxygen (HgBa2Ca2Cu3O8+δ) with Tc = 138 K.[25]

In February 2008, an iron-based family of high temperature superconductors was discovered.[26][27] Hideo Hosono, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and colleagues found lanthanum oxygen fluorine iron arsenide (LaO1-xFxFeAs), an oxypnictide that superconducts below 26 K. Replacing the lanthanum in LaO1-xFxFeAs with samarium leads to superconductors that work at 55 K.[28]

Crystal structure of high temperature ceramic superconductors

The structure of a high-Tc superconductor is closely related to perovskite structure, and the structure of these compounds has been described as a distorted, oxygen deficient multi-layered perovskite structure. One of the properties of the crystal structure of oxide superconductors is an alternating multi-layer of CuO2 planes with superconductivity taking place between these layers. The more layers of CuO2 the higher Tc. This structure causes a large anisotropy in normal conducting and superconducting properties, since electrical currents are carried by holes induced in the oxygen sites of the CuO2 sheets. The electrical conduction is highly anisotropic, with a much higher conductivity parallel to the CuO2 plane than in the perpendicular direction. Generally, Critical temperatures depend on the chemical compositions, cations substitutions and oxygen content.

YBCO superconductors

The first superconductor found with Tc > 77 K (liquid nitrogen boiling point) is yttrium barium copper oxide (YBa2Cu3O7-x), the proportions of the 3 different metals in the YBa2Cu3O7 superconductor are in the mole ratio of 1 to 2 to 3 for yttrium to barium to copper respectively. Thus, this particular superconductor is often referred to as the 123 superconductor.

YBCO unit cell

The unit cell of YBa2Cu3O7 consists of three pseudocubic elementary perovskite unit cells. Each perovskite unit cell contains a Y or Ba atom at the center: Ba in the bottom unit cell, Y in the middle one, and Ba in the top unit cell. Thus, Y and Ba are stacked in the sequence [Ba–Y–Ba] along the c-axis. All corner sites of the unit cell are occupied by Cu, which has two different coordinations, Cu(1) and Cu(2), with respect to oxygen. There are four possible crystallographic sites for oxygen: O(1), O(2), O(3) and O(4).[29] The coordination polyhedra of Y and Ba with respect to oxygen are different. The tripling of the perovskite unit cell leads to nine oxygen atoms, whereas YBa2Cu3O7 has seven oxygen atoms and, therefore, is referred to as an oxygen-deficient perovskite structure. The structure has a stacking of different layers: (CuO)(BaO)(CuO2)(Y)(CuO2)(BaO)(CuO). One of the key feature of the unit cell of YBa2Cu3O7-x (YBCO) is the presence of two layers of CuO2. The role of the Y plane is to serve as a spacer between two CuO2 planes. In YBCO, the Cu–O chains are known to play an important role for superconductivity. Tc maximizes near 92 K when x ≈ 0.15 and the structure is orthorhombic. Superconductivity disappears at x ≈ 0.6, where the structural transformation of YBCO occurs from orthorhombic to tetragonal.[30]

Bi-, Tl- and Hg-based high-Tc superconductors

The crystal structure of Bi-, Tl- and Hg-based high-Tc superconductors are very similar to each other. Like YBCO, the perovskite-type feature and the presence of CuO2 layers also exist in these superconductors. However, unlike YBCO, Cu–O chains are not present in these superconductors. The YBCO superconductor has an orthorhombic structure, whereas the other high-Tc superconductors have a tetragonal structure.

The Bi–Sr–Ca–Cu–O system has three superconducting phases forming a homologous series as Bi2Sr2Can-1CunO4+2n+x (n = 1, 2 and 3). These three phases are Bi-2201, Bi-2212 and Bi-2223, having transition temperatures of 20, 85 and 110 K, respectively, where the numbering system represent number of atoms for Bi, Sr, Ca and Cu respectively.[31] The two phases have a tetragonal structure which consists of two sheared crystallographic unit cells. The unit cell of these phases has double Bi–O planes which are stacked in a way that the Bi atom of one plane sits below the oxygen atom of the next consecutive plane. The Ca atom forms a layer within the interior of the CuO2 layers in both Bi-2212 and Bi-2223; there is no Ca layer in the Bi-2201 phase. The three phases differ with each other in the number of CuO2 planes; Bi-2201, Bi-2212 and Bi-2223 phases have one, two and three CuO2 planes, respectively. The c axis of these phases increases with the number of CuO2 planes (see Table below). The coordination of the Cu atom is different in the three phases. The Cu atom forms an octahedral coordination with respect to oxygen atoms in the 2201 phase, whereas in 2212, the Cu atom is surrounded by five oxygen atoms in a pyramidal arrangement. In the 2223 structure, Cu has two coordinations with respect to oxygen: one Cu atom is bonded with four oxygen atoms in square planar configuration and another Cu atom is coordinated with five oxygen atoms in a pyramidal arrangement.[32]

Tl–Ba–Ca–Cu–O superconductor: The first series of the Tl-based superconductor containing one Tl–O layer has the general formula TlBa2Can-1CunO2n+3,[33] whereas the second series containing two Tl–O layers has a formula of Tl2Ba2Can-1CunO2n+4 with n = 1, 2 and 3. In the structure of Tl2Ba2CuO6 (Tl-2201), there is one CuO2 layer with the stacking sequence (Tl–O) (Tl–O) (Ba–O) (Cu–O) (Ba–O) (Tl–O) (Tl–O). In Tl2Ba2CaCu2O8 (Tl-2212), there are two Cu–O layers with a Ca layer in between. Similar to the Tl2Ba2CuO6 structure, Tl–O layers are present outside the Ba–O layers. In Tl2Ba2Ca2Cu3O10 (Tl-2223), there are three CuO2 layers enclosing Ca layers between each of these. In Tl-based superconductors, Tc is found to increase with the increase in CuO2 layers. However, the value of Tc decreases after four CuO2 layers in TlBa2Can-1CunO2n+3, and in the Tl2Ba2Can-1CunO2n+4 compound, it decreases after three CuO2 layers.[34]

Hg–Ba–Ca–Cu–O superconductor: The crystal structure of HgBa2CuO4 (Hg-1201),[35] HgBa2CaCu2O6 (Hg-1212) and HgBa2Ca2Cu3O8 (Hg-1223) is similar to that of Tl-1201, Tl-1212 and Tl-1223, with Hg in place of Tl. It is noteworthy that the Tc of the Hg compound (Hg-1201) containing one CuO2 layer is much larger as compared to the one-CuO2-layer compound of thallium (Tl-1201). In the Hg-based superconductor, Tc is also found to increase as the CuO2 layer increases. For Hg-1201, Hg-1212 and Hg-1223, the values of Tc are 94, 128 and 134 K respectively, as shown in table below. The observation that the Tc of Hg-1223 increases to 153 K under high pressure indicates that the Tc of this compound is very sensitive to the structure of the compound.[36]

Critical temperature (Tc), crystal structure and lattice constants of some high-Tc superconductors
Formula Notation Tc (K) No. of Cu-O planes
in unit cell
Crystal structure
YBa2Cu3O7 123 92 2 Orthorhombic
Bi2Sr2CuO6 Bi-2201 20 1 Tetragonal
Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8 Bi-2212 85 2 Tetragonal
Bi2Sr2Ca2Cu3O6 Bi-2223 110 3 Tetragonal
Tl2Ba2CuO6 Tl-2201 80 1 Tetragonal
Tl2Ba2CaCu2O8 Tl-2212 108 2 Tetragonal
Tl2Ba2Ca2Cu3O10 Tl-2223 125 3 Tetragonal
TlBa2Ca3Cu4O11 Tl-1234 122 4 Tetragonal
HgBa2CuO4 Hg-1201 94 1 Tetragonal
HgBa2CaCu2O6 Hg-1212 128 2 Tetragonal
HgBa2Ca2Cu3O8 Hg-1223 134 3 Tetragonal

Preparation of high-Tc superconductors

The simplest method for preparing high-Tc superconductors is a solid-state thermochemical reaction involving mixing, calcination and sintering. The appropriate amounts of precursor powders, usually oxides and carbonates, are mixed thoroughly using a ball mill. Solution chemistry processes such as coprecipitation, freeze-drying and sol–gel methods are alternative ways for preparing a homogenous mixture. These powders are calcined in the temperature range from 800 °C to 950 °C for several hours. The powders are cooled, reground and calcined again. This process is repeated several times to get homogenous material. The powders are subsequently compacted to pellets and sintered. The sintering environment such as temperature, annealing time, atmosphere and cooling rate play a very important role in getting good high-Tc superconducting materials. The YBa2Cu3O7-x compound is prepared by calcination and sintering of a homogenous mixture of Y2O3, BaCO3 and CuO in the appropriate atomic ratio. Calcination is done at 900–950 °C, whereas sintering is done at 950 °C in an oxygen atmosphere. The oxygen stoichiometry in this material is very crucial for obtaining a superconducting YBa2Cu3O7-x compound. At the time of sintering, the semiconducting tetragonal YBa2Cu3O6 compound is formed, which, on slow cooling in oxygen atmosphere, turns into superconducting YBa2Cu3O7-x. The uptake and loss of oxygen are reversible in YBa2Cu3O7-x. A fully oxidized orthorhombic YBa2Cu3O7-x sample can be transformed into tetragonal YBa2Cu3O6 by heating in a vacuum at temperature above 700 °C.[30]

The preparation of Bi-, Tl- and Hg-based high-Tc superconductors is difficult compared to YBCO. Problems in these superconductors arise because of the existence of three or more phases having a similar layered structure. Thus, syntactic intergrowth and defects such as stacking faults occur during synthesis and it becomes difficult to isolate a single superconducting phase. For Bi–Sr–Ca–Cu–O, it is relatively simple to prepare the Bi-2212 (Tc ≈ 85 K) phase, whereas it is very difficult to prepare a single phase of Bi-2223 (Tc ≈ 110 K). The Bi-2212 phase appears only after few hours of sintering at 860–870 °C, but the larger fraction of the Bi-2223 phase is formed after a long reaction time of more than a week at 870 °C.[32] Although the substitution of Pb in the Bi–Sr–Ca–Cu–O compound has been found to promote the growth of the high-Tc phase,[37] a long sintering time is still required.


Video of superconducting levitation of YBCO

Superconducting magnets are some of the most powerful electromagnets known. They are used in MRI and NMR machines, mass spectrometers, and the beam-steering magnets used in particle accelerators. They can also be used for magnetic separation, where weakly magnetic particles are extracted from a background of less or non-magnetic particles, as in the pigment industries.

In the 1950s and 1960s, superconductors were used to build experimental digital computers using cryotron switches. More recently, superconductors have been used to make digital circuits based on rapid single flux quantum technology and RF and microwave filters for mobile phone base stations.

Superconductors are used to build Josephson junctions which are the building blocks of SQUIDs (superconducting quantum interference devices), the most sensitive magnetometers known. SQUIDs are used in scanning SQUID microscopes. Series of Josephson devices are used to realize the SI volt. Depending on the particular mode of operation, a Josephson junction can be used as a photon detector or as a mixer. The large resistance change at the transition from the normal- to the superconducting state is used to build thermometers in cryogenic micro-calorimeter photon detectors.

Other early markets are arising where the relative efficiency, size and weight advantages of devices based on high-temperature superconductivity outweigh the additional costs involved.

Promising future applications include high-performance smart grid, electric power transmission, transformers, power storage devices, electric motors (e.g. for vehicle propulsion, as in vactrains or maglev trains), magnetic levitation devices, fault current limiters, nanoscopic materials such as buckyballs, nanotubes, composite materials and superconducting magnetic refrigeration. However, superconductivity is sensitive to moving magnetic fields so applications that use alternating current (e.g. transformers) will be more difficult to develop than those that rely upon direct current.

See also


  1. ^ a b John C. Gallop (1990). SQUIDS, the Josephson Effects and Superconducting Electronics. CRC Press. p. 3,20. ISBN 0750300515. 
  2. ^ doi:10.1038/3506503
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  3. ^ Preuss, Paul (2002-08-14). "A most unusual superconductor and how it works: first-principles calculation explains the strange behavior of magnesium diboride". Research News (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory). Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  4. ^ Johnston, Hamish (2009-02-17). "Type-1.5 superconductor shows its stripes". Physics World (Institute of Physics). Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
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  8. ^ Landau, L. D (1984). Electrodynamics of Continuous Media : Volume 8 (Course of Theoretical Physics). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 0-7506-2634-8. 
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  11. ^ a b J. Bardeen, L. N. Cooper and J. R. Schrieffer (1957). "Theory of Superconductivity". Phys. Rev. 108 (5): 1175–1205. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.108.1175. 
  12. ^ H. K. Onnes (1911). "The resistance of pure mercury at helium temperatures". Commun. Phys. Lab. Univ. Leiden 12: 120. 
  13. ^ W. Meissner and R. Ochsenfeld (1933). "Ein neuer Effekt bei Eintritt der Supraleitfähigkeit". Naturwiss. 21 (44): 787–788. doi:10.1007/BF01504252. 
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  • Kleinert, Hagen, Gauge Fields in Condensed Matter, Vol. I, "Superflow and vortex lines"; pp. 1—742, World Scientific (Singapore, 1989); Paperback ISBN 9971-5-0210-0 (also readable online: Vol. I)
  • Anatoly Larkin; Varlamov, Andrei, Theory of Fluctuations in Superconductors, Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2005 (ISBN 0198528159)
  • A.G. Lebed (Ed.) (2008). The Physics of Organic Superconductors and Conductors (1nd ed.). Springer Series in Materials Science , Vol. 110. ISBN 978-3-540-76667-4. 
  • Matricon, Jean; Waysand, Georges; Glashausser, Charles; The Cold Wars: A History of Superconductivity, Rutgers University Press, 2003, ISBN 0813532957
  • ScienceDaily: Physicist Discovers Exotic Superconductivity (University of Arizona) August 17, 2006
  • Tinkham, Michael (2004). Introduction to Superconductivity (2nd ed.). Dover Books on Physics. ISBN 0-486-43503-2 (Paperback). 
  • Tipler, Paul; Llewellyn, Ralph (2002). Modern Physics (4th ed.). W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-4345-0. 

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