Newly found superconductor could revolutionize Quantum Computers

Electric current was found along the edge of a newly found superconductor.

Scientists, for the first time, observed semiconducting current flowing along the edge of the material. Physicist Nai Phuan Ong and colleagues from Princeton University found this phenomenon in a thin sheet of molybdenum ditelluride chilled to absolute zero. The interior and the edge make up two distinct superconductors.

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What are Superconductors?

Superconductors are materials that offer no resistance in conducting electricity or flow electrons from one atom to another. In a standard conducting material, some form of electrical energy is lost in the form of heat, sound, and other forms of energy. In a superconductor, no electrical energy is lost. For a material to be in superconducting, it has to be in an extremely low energy state, in other words, extremely low temperatures. The material loses its superconductive property at a critical temperature, critical field, and critical current density.

Molybdenum ditelluride is an example of topological materials. It exhibits a distinction between interior and exterior. In topological insulators, electrical current flows only on the surface of the material, and not in the interior. Similarly, topological superconductors are superconducting in their interiors and behave differently on the surface.

The Experiment

Physicists Ong and colleagues gradually ramped up the magnetic field on a solid chunk of Molybdenum ditelluride, while simultaneously measuring the critical current density. The critical current oscillated between a large and a small value in a repeating pattern, characteristics of an edge superconductor. A study conducted in the 1960s, known as the Little-Parks experiment, found similar oscillations in a cylindrical shaped superconductor.

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A superconducting current (white arrows) runs around the edge of a thin sheet of molybdenum ditelluride (illustrated on right) in a magnetic field (black arrows). A similar effect in a ring of a superconductor (left) was seen in a classic study known as the Little-Parks experiment. | Image: W. WANG ET AL/SCIENCE 2020

The oscillations are results of electrons forming partnerships, called Cooper pairs. The electron pairs take a quantum state or wave function, which determines the probability of a particle to be found in a particular location.

Significance of the finding

Molybdenum ditelluride is a metal-like compound, and the disturbance within the material could help create better quantum computers. Quantum computers created using topological materials are expected to resist the jitters that impair quantum calculations.

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