Magnesium Diboride – A Strange Anomaly in Superconductivity

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magnesium diboride is a type II superconductor with a transition temperature (Tc) of 39 K, one of the highest Tcs known for a superconductor. It is a simple binary compound with boron and magnesium, which are abundant in Earth’s crust.

MgB2 is an inexpensive and easily synthesized superconductor. It is a promising alternative to niobium-tin superconductors.

The ability to increase MgB2’s magnetic field and current density by doping it with carbon atoms may help to ease the expense of producing superconducting devices that generate the intense fields required for such applications as high-field magnets used in medical diagnostics, research, and particle accelerators. Researchers at the U. S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory are pursuing fundamental research that could one day enhance MgB2’s superconducting properties to reduce the cost of developing these types of systems.

Physicists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have found that a strange anomaly in MgB2’s electronic structure explains its puzzling superconducting behavior. They have discovered two separate populations of electrons, each bonded to its own boron atoms.

This is in contrast to the common theory of single-electron superconductivity, which assumes that all atoms are connected by only one set of electrons. As a result, two distinct gaps in MgB2’s transition temperature have been found.

The two gaps are created by a small interaction between the two sets of electrons that scatters from states in one band to states in the other and by Coulomb repulsion. This interaction is the source of MgB2’s unusual superconducting behaviors, and theorists say it could be a starting point for new materials with similar electronic structures that may exhibit more robust and complex superconductivity.