September 12, 2015

Team announces breakthrough observation of Mott transition in a superconductor

Scientists announced the first observation of a dynamic vortex Mott transition, which experimentally
connects the worlds of quantum mechanics and classical physics and could shed light on the
poorly understood world of non-equilibrium physics. Image courtesy Valerii Vinokur/Science;
click to view larger.

(September 12, 2015)  An international team of researchers, including the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, announced today in Science the observation of a dynamic Mott transition in a superconductor.

The discovery experimentally connects the worlds of classical and quantum mechanics and illuminates the mysterious nature of the Mott transition. It also could shed light on non-equilibrium physics, which is poorly understood but governs most of what occurs in our world. The finding may also represent a step towards more efficient electronics based on the Mott transition.

Since its foundations were laid in the early part of the 20th century, scientists have been trying to reconcile quantum mechanics with the rules of classical or Newtonian physics (like how you describe the path of an apple thrown into the air—or dropped from a tree). Physicists have made strides in linking the two approaches, but experiments that connect the two are still few and far between; physics phenomena are usually classified as either quantum or classical, but not both.

One system that unites the two is found in superconductors, certain materials that conduct electricity perfectly when cooled to very low temperatures. Magnetic fields penetrate the superconducting material in the form of tiny filaments called vortices, which control the electronic and magnetic properties of the materials.

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