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Superconductors are able to conduct electricity with zero resistance thanks to Cooper pairs, electron duos that team up and skate through a material unimpeded. In 2007, researchers at Brown University made the surprising discovery that Cooper pairs can also exist in insulating materials, helping to block the flow of current rather than enabling it. Now that same research group has revealed the forces involved in these ‘Cooper pair insulators’.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, the researchers show that in the insulating phase Cooper pairs are held in check by the repulsive interactions between the pairs themselves, not by any disorder in the atomic lattice of the material. That insight could be important in designing materials or devices that take advantage of the superconducting-insulating transition – a superconducting switch, for example.

"Essential to electronics is manipulating how electrons flow, so finding new ways in which electrons flow leads to new manipulation methods for implementation in novel devices," said Jim Valles, a professor of physics at Brown and senior author on the paper. "This work gives us new information about Cooper pair propagation, which could be helpful in manipulating them in new devices."

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Category: Science