PORTLAND, Ore. Superconducting metals work by binding electrons into pairs called Cooper pairs whose motion can be coupled into long chains of electrons. Those electrons are synchronized with the conductor's lattice vibrations (when cooled near absolute zero), thereby avoiding the collisions with metal atoms that define resistance.
A Brown University researcher, James Valles, claims to have discovered Cooper pairs in superinsulators that, when cooled near absolute zero, offer infinite resistance--acting as perfect blocks to conduction. Superinsulators may someday be wired together with superconductors to create supercircuits that generate zero heat.
"We have found that Cooper pairing can be responsible not only for conducting electricity with zero resistance, but also for blocking the flow of electricity altogether," said Valles.
The Brown researchers specifically set out to discover superinsulators by crafting bismuth, which is a superconductor as a bulk material, into a thin film only four atoms thick. They fabricated a template for the thin film which was perforated with 50 nanometer holes, enabling the conditions to be set for transforming the bismuth from a superconductor into a superinsulator.
The researchers are currently developing a theory to rival the theory of superconductivity while also explaining the workings of superinsulators. So far, the researchers theorize that when acting as a superinsulator, Cooper pairs are locked together rather than linking into chains. The holes in the bismuth template enabled the locked pairs to be detected as they spun segregated into tiny whirlpools, according to the researchers.
Next, the Brown researchers hope to create superinsulators for superconducting wires that resist heating. If superinsulators can be perfected for wires, the next step could be their integration to circuitry alongside superconductors.
For instance, Josephson junctions work by separating two superconducting metals with an insulator. New types of devices harnessing the quantum effects of a material with infinite resistance, could also be crafted from superinsulators, according to the researchers.