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In an article published today in the journal Nature, the team, led by Chia-Ling Chien, the Jacob L. Hain Professor of Physics and director of the Material Research Science and Engineering Center at The Johns Hopkins University, offers insights into why the characteristics of a new family of iron-based superconductors reveal the need for fresh theoretical models which could, they say, pave the way for the development of superconductors that can operate at room temperature.
To the researchers' surprise, their results were incompatible with some of the newly proposed theories in this mushrooming field.
"In the face of this discovery, it is clear that we need to reexamine the old and invent some new theoretical models," Tesanovic said. "I predict that these new, iron-based superconductors will keep us physicists busy for a long, long while."
The researchers put the new superconductors to the test, placing them within Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 45-tesla Hybrid magnet, one of the most powerful research magnets in existence. Researchers expected the magnet to be sufficient to kill the superconductor, but to their surprise it tolerated it and was healthily superconducting even at the magnetic field's full power.
On a technical side the research yields an even greater mystery, perhaps indicating that we know less about superconduction than we think we do. Superconduction on an atomic level has long been though to occur through so-called "Cooper pairs", paired electrons with opposite spin, momentum, etc. Magnetism was thought to break these pairs. Either iron has some sort of unique way of keeping the pairs bonded, or the current model is incomplete or flawed.