Condensed matter physicists are constantly looking for interesting new states of matter and new materials with unique exploitable properties which reflect the complex quantum mechanical interactions of the electrons that bind them together. These electronic properties can sometimes be approximated to the sum of individual electrons moving within the material, such as the electrical conduction of electrons in simple metals or semiconductors like silicon. The properties are on the whole more interesting, however, when an accurate description of the material needs to account for the collective and correlated motion of large numbers of electrons. Such collective physics leads to the familiar ferromagnetic properties of materials like iron and, less familiarly, the phenomenon of superconductivity. In the latter electrons are able to flow through the bulk of a superconducting material without generating heat and extraordinarily high electrical currents become possible. This finds application, for example, in the large superconducting magnets required for MRI body scanners. Magnetism and superconductivity are often antagonistic phenomena, since they involve different arrangements of the spins of electrons. Spin is a quantum property of electrons that gives rise to intrinsic magnetic fields - it can be visualised as a tiny compass needle attached to each electron. In ferromagnetism all the spins point in the same direction, but in conventional superconductivity the electrons form pairs (Cooper pairs) in which the spins point in opposite directions. Ferromagnetism therefore normally destroys these Cooper pairs, and hence superconductivity, by causing their spins to align parallel. Condensed matter physicists often look for new materials where ferromagnetism and superconductivity coexist, since this can suggest the presence of some exotic new form of superconductivity (or other novel quantum state). One example is spin-triplet superconductivity, in which the spins of a Cooper pair prefer to be aligned parallel rather than antiparallel. One way to try and engender such exotic states of matter is to grow artificial materials by depositing very thin superconducting and ferromagnetic films (a few nm thick) on top of one another. In this way the properties of the final structure can be tuned, sometimes leading it to exhibit behaviours that have never been found in naturally occurring bulk materials. An example of this is a unique kind of spin-triplet (so called odd-frequency) superconductivity that has recently been demonstrated in this type of thin film structure. The production of artificial materials can be taken a step further if one also patterns such thin film materials in the plane of the film using advanced electron beam lithography technology, to produce additional patterns and structures on the nanoscale. Such an approach could lead not only to the discovery of interesting new quantum phases, but could also to useful properties that could be exploited in future technologies, such as quantum computing. In this project we bring together a team of experts with a diverse range of skills that can grow, pattern, measure and undertake theoretical studies on the type of nanostructured materials discussed above. One particularly novel aspect of our approach is the use of powerful imaging techniques involving neutron, muons, X-rays and bespoke scanning magnetic sensors to gain unique insights into both the basic physics at play in systems exhibiting odd-frequency triplet superconductivity as well as the relation between the detailed magnetic and physical structures and their exotic properties. Although the basic aim of this project is the pursuit of new scientific knowledge, we will be looking for interesting effects and properties that might find future applications.
Investigation of unconventional superconducting pairing in superconductor-ferromagnet heterostructures containing non-collinear magnetic moments.
|Effective start/end date||29/03/12 → 28/09/16|