Linac Coherent Light SourceScientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have uncovered a key factor behind the emergence of superconductivity, the ability to conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

Precisely timed pairs of laser pulses at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) triggered superconductivity in the copper-oxide material under investigation. Researchers took x-ray snapshots of its atomic and electronic structure as superconductivity emerged.

The scientists found that so-called charge stripes of increased electrical charge vanished as superconductivity appeared. The results help rule out the theory that shifts in the material’s atomic lattice hinder the onset of superconductivity.

Light Induced Superconductivity

The new understanding may help scientists develop new techniques to eliminate charge stripes and open the door to room-temperature superconductivity, frequently looked upon as the holy grail of condensed matter physics. The demonstrated ability to rapidly switch between the insulating and superconducting states could also prove useful in advanced electronics and computation.

“The very short timescales and the need for high spatial resolution made this experiment extraordinarily challenging,” said co-author Michael Först. “Now, using femtosecond x-ray pulses, we found a way to capture the quadrillionths-of-a-second dynamics of the charges and the crystal lattice. We’ve broken new ground in understanding light-induced superconductivity.”

The material used in this study was a layered compound made of barium, lanthanum, copper, and oxygen. Each copper oxide layer contained the critical charge stripes.

Strings in a pile of Tennis Racquets

charge stripes LCLS“Imagine these stripes as ripples frozen in the sand,” said John Hill, coauthor on the study. “Each layer has all the ripples going in one direction, but in t
he neighboring layers they run crosswise. From above, this looks like strings in a pile of tennis racquets. We believe that this pattern prevents each layer from talking to the next, thus frustrating superconductivity.”

Mid-infrared laser pulses were used by the scientists used “melt” those frozen ripples, exciting the material and push it into the superconducting phase. Such pulses had previously been shown to induce superconductivity in a related compound at a frigid 10 Kelvin (minus 442 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The charge stripes disappeared immediately,” Hill said. “But specific distortions in the crystal lattice, which had been thought to stabilize these stripes, lingered much longer. This shows that only the charge stripes inhibit superconductivity.”

Catching Charge Stripes in the Act

SLAC’s LCLS x-ray laser works like a camera with a shutter speed faster than 100 femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second, and gives atomic-scale image resolution. LCLS uses a section of SLAC’s 2-mile-long linear accelerator to generate the electrons that give off x-ray light.

“This represents a very important result in the field of superconductivity using LCLS,” said Linac Coherent Light Source staff scientist Josh Turner. “It demonstrates how we can unravel different types of complex mechanisms in superconductivity that have, up until now, been inseparable.To make this measurement, we had to push the limits of our current capabilities. We had to measure a very weak, barely detectable signal with state-of-the-art detectors, and we had to tune the number of x-rays in each laser pulse to see the signal from the stripes without destroying the sample.”

For measuring the changes in high spatial resolution, the team used a technique called resonant soft x-ray diffraction. The LCLS x-rays strike and scatter off the crystal into the detector, carrying time-stamped signatures of the material’s charge and lattice structure that the physicists then used to reconstruct the rise and fall of superconducting conditions.

Superior Superconductor Materials

The x-ray scattering measurements showed that the lattice distortion persists for more than 10 picoseconds (trillionths of a second), long after the charge stripes melted and superconductivity appeared, which happened in less than 400 femtoseconds. Slight as it may sound, those extra trillionths of a second make a huge difference.

“The findings suggest that the relatively weak and long-lasting lattice shifts do not play an essential role in the presence of superconductivity,” Hill said. “We can now narrow our focus on the stripes to further pin down the underlying mechanism and potentially engineer superior materials.”


Melting of Charge Stripes in Vibrationally Driven La1.875Ba0.125CuO4: Assessing the Respective Roles of Electronic and Lattice Order in Frustrated Superconductors
M. Först, R. I. Tobey, H. Bromberger, S. B. Wilkins, V. Khanna, A. D. Caviglia, Y.-D. Chuang, W. S. Lee, W. F. Schlotter, J. J. Turner, M. P. Minitti, O. Krupin, Z. J. Xu, J. S. Wen, G. D. Gu, S. S. Dhesi, A. Cavalleri, and J. P. Hill
Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 157002 – Published 16 April 2014

padlockA new option in development for the Chrome OS could in future Chrome versions let users unlock their Chromebooks automatically just by their phone being in close proximity.

Spotted by Android Police, this feature, called “Easy Unlock”, is by default disabled, but people running Chrome OS on the dev channel can enable it with chrome://flags/#enable-easy-unlock.

It is still not known what kind of technology the unlock feature would use for sensing the Android device proximity. It could be Bluetooth, Wi-fi or even Near Field Communication, which although Chrome does not support at present, is being worked on.

Like I said, no one knows what type of connection it will be, because the feature doesn’t actually function yet. There is only the setup and description for now, and even that is still unfinished.

This is a great idea, but Google didn’t come up with it. There is a desktop utility called Blueproximity that has been around for a few years.

From the project’s Sourceforge page:

This software helps you add a little more security to your desktop. It does so by detecting one of your bluetooth devices, most likely your mobile phone, and keeping track of its distance. If you move away from your computer and the distance is above a certain level (no measurement in meters is possible) for a given time, it automatically locks your desktop (or starts any other shell command you want).

Once away your computer awaits its master back – if you are nearer than a given level for a set time your computer unlocks magically without any interaction (or starts any other shell command you want).

It is also a similar concept to the electronic car door “unlock with key fob” gimmick.

Hubble Galaxy Cluster Image Looks halfway to the Universe’s Edge

by James Anderson April 18, 2014

A 14-hour exposure image cluster taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows objects around a billion times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye. The image of a galaxy cluster gives astronomers an amazing cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at various distances and stages in cosmic history. The galaxies in this image […]

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Graphene Nano-Membrane 1000 times more breathable than Goretex

by James Anderson April 18, 2014

A stable, porous membrane thinner than a nanometre has been produced by researchers at ETH Zurich. That is 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. The new membrane opens the door to a new generation of waterproof clothing, and also to ultra-rapid filtration. Made of two layers of graphene, a two-dimensional film made of carbon […]

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Hunting Dark Energy with Very Slow Neutrons

by Wesley Roberts April 17, 2014

Gravity resonance spectroscopy is so sensitive that it can now be used to search for Dark Matter and Dark Energy. This low energy, table top alternative to massive particle accelerators takes validity of Newtonian gravity down by five orders of magnitude. It also narrows the potential properties of the forces and particles that may exist […]

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Giant Quantum Dots could lead to Solar Panel Windows

by James Anderson April 15, 2014

Recent quantum dot research at Los Alamos National Laboratory could lead to windows that also act as solar panels. The work shows that the greater light emitting properties of quantum dots are applicable to solar energy, helping more efficiently harvest sunlight. Quantum dots, extremely small bits of semiconductor material, can be synthesized with almost atomic […]

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