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The first known superconductor in which spin-3/2 quasiparticles form Cooper pairs has been created by physicists in the US and New Zealand. The unconventional superconductor is an alloy of yttrium, platinum and bismuth, which is normally a topological semimetal.

The research was done by Johnpierre Paglione and colleagues at the University of Maryland, Iowa State’s Ames Laboratory, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Universities of Otago and Wisconsin.

Conventional superconductivity arises in a material when spin-1/2 electrons form “Cooper pairs” because of interactions between the electrons and vibrations of the material’s crystalline lattice. These pairs are bosons with integer (usually zero) spin, which means that at very low temperatures they can condense to form a state that conducts electrical current with no resistance.

In the alloy studied by Paglione and colleagues, charge is carried by particle-like quasiparticles with spin-3/2. These quasiparticles arise from interactions between the spins of electrons and the positive charges of the atoms that make up the alloy. This effect is called spin-orbit coupling and is particularly strong in this material. The result is that the spin-3/2 state – which combines spin and orbital angular momentum – is the lowest energy state.

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Category: Science