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Electrons — the negatively charged particles around atoms — have split "personalities," and act one way or the other depending on how many of them are around, new research suggests.

The finding could help to solve a long-standing mystery about electrical currents in superconductors, which carry such current with no energy loss. Physicists have long wondered why electrons sometimes move freely as superconducting materials cool and other times jam up electrical flow.

The researchers focused on so-called high-temperature superconductors, or those materials that conduct electricity at temperatures above supercold, or absolute zero (minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius). They used an electron microscope to examine one class of high-temperature superconductors based on cuprates, orcopper and oxygen compounds. Cuprates are usually insulators (meaning they don't conduct electricity) but when cooled to about 160 degrees Kelvin (minus 171 degrees F, or minus 113 degrees C) and mixed with a oxygen, amounting to a few atoms scattered among several cuprate molecules, they turn into superconductors, the team from Brookhaven National Laboratory found. [Beyond Copper: 8 Chemical Elements You Never Heard Of]

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