The basic facts: • Resistivity goes to zero below the critical temperature Tc (the most sensitive measurements imply R < 10-25 Ω) • Many different materials show superconductivity • Tc values range from a few mK up to 160K • Superconductors expel flux (the Meissner effect) and act as perfect diamagnets. • Superconductivity is destroyed by a critical magnetic field Bc • Specific heat, infrared absorption, tunnelling, .. all imply that there is an energy gap associated with superconductivity

Transition is very sharp in pure materials (as narrow as 10-3 K), broader when impurities are present. Very good conductors (simple free electron materials) do not superconduct. Superconductivity is destroyed by high currents (critical current Jc)

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Superconducting Elements

Critical Field
Superconductivity is destroyed by magnetic fields Critical field depends on temperature, typically

Bc = B0 (1 − (T / Tc ) 2 )

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Meissner Effect
It was discovered in 1933 that when cooled in a magnetic field flux is expelled completely from a superconductor Inside the superconductor B = Ba + μ0M, giving M = -B/μ0 (χ = -1) This is not the result of zero resistance

Flux expulsion


Superconductor with hole

Zero Resistance Normal Metal

∫ E.ds

= ∂φ


T > Tc

Flux is expelled from superconductor, Flux is trapped in a zero resistance metal

T < Tc B < Bc T < Tc B=0

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Flux penetration
In order to cause the flux ∂j ne 2τ ne 2 j = E , so E = expulsion it is necessary for ∂t m m there to be a surface current to ∂j ne 2 ne 2 ∂B = curlE = − curl generate the internal flux
∂t m m ∂t

London & London assumed that:

ne 2 curl j = − B m

ne 2 ne 2 curl curl j = − curl B = − μ 0 j = − ∇2 j m m m giving : j = j0 exp − λx, with λ = μ 0 ne 2 λ is the London penetration depth (approx. 10 nm)

Thermodynamics of the Superconducting phase transition
In magnetic field we define a Gibbs free energy as: G = E - TS -M.B, where the M.B term includes the energy of interaction of the specimen with the external field. Thus: dG = (dE - TdS - B.dM) - SdT - M.dB = - SdT - M.dB dE = dQ + dW

GS ( Bc , T ) = GS (0, T ) − GS ( Bc , T ) = GS (0, T ) +

∫ M.dB ,

with M = −


Bc2 2μ 0




dB = GS (0, T ) +

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


At Bc the normal and superconducting phases are in equilibrium, so their Gibbs functions are the same. Thus:

Bc2 GN (0, T ) − GS (0, T ) = 2μ0
We can deduce the Entropy difference from S = -∂G/∂T

ΔS = S N − S S

1 dBc2 = − 2 μ 0 dT

= −

Bc dBc μ 0 dT

At Tc the value of Bc → 0 so SN = SS dBc/dT is negative, so SN > SS for T < Tc

Entropy and Specific Heat
Entropy of two states is the same at Tc Specific heat is:
C = T ∂S ∂T

Discontinuity in C at Tc Second order phase transition

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Specific heat of superconductor has a large discontinuity and tends to zero at T = 0

Specific heat is activated with

⎛ Δ ⎞ C S ∝ exp ⎜ − ⎜ k T⎟ ⎟ ⎝ B ⎠

Infrared absorption
Infrared absorption when hν > 2Δ Value of energy gap 2Δ is related to Tc

2Δ ≈ 3.5 k BTc

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


BCS Theory
• A field theory developed by Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer • Explanation for the formation of an energy gap • based on the formation of ‘Cooper pairs’ of electrons • electrons experience an attraction caused by interaction with crystal lattice leading to binding in pairs Evidence for phonon interactions: • Isotope effect. For different isotopes Tc ∝ M-1/2 • Good conductors at high temp. (Cu, Na, Au etc) do not superconduct, poor conductors do (Hg, Pb, Sn…)

Cooper pairs
Two in a bed. Exchange of virtual phonons

Strongest interaction for k1 = -k2

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Electrons bind together in pairs with momenta kF and -kF. Bonding pair have opposite spins in a spin singlet wavefunction 1 φ = φ S (r1 , r2 ) (↑↓ − ↓↑)

Pair has charge 2e and mass 2m Pairs gain a binding energy of Δ per electron Energy gap of 2Δ occurs at the Fermi energy EF

Zero Resistance
Current flows by displacement of entire Fermi surface. Because of the energy gap no scattering can occur until pairs can be excited across gap. Causes a Critical current Jc once electrons gain enough energy. Energy gap is temperature dependent, leading to temperature dependence of Bc, Jc.

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Energy and Coherence
Average energy gain per electron is approx. Δ/2 (actually Δ/4 with full theory) so as Δ × g(EF) electrons are shifted down

Δ2 g ( E F ) Bc2 = gain in Gibbs free energy = 4 2μ0
Coherence Length ξ = vFτ Estimate τ from energy gap: /τ = 2Δ so ξ = vF /2Δ (accurate result: vF /πΔ) typical values are 1000 - 1 nm (much shorter in exotic and high Tc materials)

Type I and Type II Superconductors in B field
Magnetisation energy occurs over the London penetration depth λ

Superconductivity is established over the coherence Length ξ

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Type II superconductors
Have short coherence lengths and high Tc Form vortices which make a flux lattice above Bc1 Typical materials: One element, Nb, and many alloys such as NbTi, Nb3Sn, V3Ga…. High Tc Materials: Ba0.75La4.25Cu5O5(3-y) YBa2Cu3O7-x

High Tc Materials
Conduction takes place in CuO planes

All properties are highly anisotropic

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Superconducting Tunnelling
Tunnelling between two superconductors with a very thin (few nm) barrier Tunnel current shows features due to alignment of energy levels either side of barrier. Measures energy gaps

Flux Quantisation
Resistivity = 0 means no scattering. Therefore there is macroscopic phase coherence of the supercurrent over the entire length of a superconductor
v = 1 (− ∇ − qA ) , m j = nq (− ∇ − qA ) m

∫ j.ds
Choose a path inside superconductor


0 ∴ 2 nπ

nq k.ds − ∫ qA.ds m ∫ nq 2nπ − q ∫ curlA.dS = m

( (



= q ∫ curlA.dS = q ∫ B.dS = qΦ

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07


Result is that flux is quantised in units:

Φ0 =

h h = = 2.07 × 10 −15 T m 2 q 2e

Proof of existence of Cooper pairs. Leads to many more sophisticated quantum interference effects (Josephson effect), and applications such as very sensitive measurement of small magnetic fields (and fluxes) e.g. SQUIDs

Superconductor Futurology

Superconductivity – RJ Nicholas HT07