Superconductivity has fascinated scientists for many years since it offers the potential to revolutionize current technologies. Materials only become superconductors — meaning that electrons can travel in them with no resistance — at very low temperatures. These days, this unique zero resistance superconductivity is commonly found in a number of technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Future technologies, however, will harness the total synchrony of electronic behavior in superconductors — a property called the phase. There is currently a race to build the world’s first quantum computer, which will use these phases to perform calculations. Conventional superconductors are very robust and hard to influence, and the challenge is to find new materials in which the superconducting state can be easily manipulated in a device.
EPFL’s Laboratory of Quantum Materials (QMAT), headed by Philip Moll, has been working on a specific group of unconventional superconductors known as heavy fermion materials. The QMAT scientists, as part of a broad international collaboration between EPFL, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Cornell University, made a surprising discovery about one of these materials, CeIrIn5.
The QMAT scientists, together with Katja C. Nowack from Cornell University, have now shown that this material could be produced with superconducting regions coexisting alongside regions in a normal metallic state.