These electron duos can both enable superconductivity and conduct electricity like existing metals. Cooper pairs are the electron duos allowing superconductors to conduct electricity without resistance.
Scientists thought they understood Cooper pairs, but a landmark discovery opens an entirely new area yet to be explained with research and theory.
The pairs were known to glide freely, creating a superconducting state, or create an insulating state by jamming up within a material, unable to move at all.
Now a team of researchers has shown Cooper pairs can also conduct electricity with some amount of resistance, like regular metals.
This describes an entirely new state of matter that has to be explained with new theory and research.
Jim Valles, a professor of physics at Brown University and the study’s author, said: “There had been evidence that this metallic state would arise in thin-film superconductors as they were cooled down toward their superconducting temperature, but whether or not that state involved Cooper pairs was an open question.
“We’ve developed a technique that enables us to test that question and we showed that, indeed, Cooper pairs are responsible for transporting charge in this metallic state.
“What’s interesting is that no one is quite sure at a fundamental level how they do that, so this finding will require some more theoretical and experimental work to understand exactly what’s happening.”
Cooper pairs are named after Leon Cooper, the Noble Prize-winning physics professor at Brown University.
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This means each electron usually keeps its own quantum state.
Cooper pairs, however, are unusual as they act like bosons, capable of sharing the same state.
That bosonic behavior allows Cooper pairs to coordinate their movements with other sets of Cooper pairs in a way the reduces resistance to zero.
Professor Valles and colleague Professor Jimmy Xu, showed in 2007 how Cooper pairs could also produce insulating states as well as superconductivity.
In ultra-thin materials, the pairs actually remain fixed in place, rather than moving in concert.
They remain stranded on tiny islands within a material and unable to jump to the next island.
The third state described by the Brown-led research team is a metallic state.
Phys.org reports that “there are elements of quantum theory that suggest this shouldn’t be possible.”
The less well-known states of matter range from very specific and obscure superconductor developments to the simple, everyday observation that glass doesn’t behave like anything else.
In this case, the researchers wonder how a metallic state enabled by Cooper pairs could affect designs for future technologies.