A team led by physicists at the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in the US have made a major advance in the understanding of the phenomenon of high temperature superconductivity in copper oxide ceramics.
This has implications for the use of these materials in applications such as radiofrequency and microwave filters in mobile phones, and electromagnets used in maglev trains which use magnetic levitation from a large number of magnets for lift and propulsion.
Many of the copper oxide ceramics are electrically superconducting and also have unusual magnetic properties, but long-standing discrepancies between experiment and calculation have made it difficult to robustly identify and explain the physical properties of these materials.
Calculations previously had been based on copper atoms being isolated - the correct shape of the magnetism of copper atoms when part of a covalent bond had not been taken into account.
Now the researchers have shown how to correctly compare theoretical models to experimental data, providing the key to understanding high-temperature superconductivity in cuprate materials.