UT-ORNL Scientists Make Big Find on Small Level

KNOXVILLE — New research by University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists has defied the conventional scientific wisdom about how electricity is conducted through materials on an extremely small level.

Hanno Weitering

The research, published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Physics, finds that superconductivity can occur at the nanoscale — systems smaller than 100 nanometers in size.

This could open the door to innovations that would greatly increase the flow of digital information and possibly provide a platform for ultra-fast “quantum computers.”

Superconducting materials are those that, at a very low temperature, conduct electricity with no friction, allowing for much more efficient transfer of energy. When properly harnessed, the phenomenon has tremendous potential in fields from transportation with ultra-fast trains to the power industry, where it could lead to incredibly efficient power lines.

“Superconductivity is arguably the most fascinating and useful characteristic a material can possess,” said UT physics professor Hanno Weitering, one of the authors. He holds a joint UT-ORNL professorship. Physics professor Jim Thompson is a co-author on the piece and also holds a position at ORNL. The lead author is UT physics graduate student Murat Ozer.

Conventional scientific wisdom has held that the properties that make a material a superconductor are lost at a nanoscale level. This new research, though, has shown that by working with quantum mechanics, it is possible to arrange these extremely small structures to be stable enough to sustain supercurrents.

The article is entitled “Hard Superconductivity of a Soft Metal in the Quantum Regime.” For more information, visit http://www.phys.utk.edu/news/2006/news_02272006_weitering.html. To see the first paragraph of the article, visit http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nphys244.html

Contact: Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu)