A new class of iron-based, high-temperature superconducting materials was a widely reported materials science discovery in 2008.
One of the most widely reported developments in materials science in recent years was the discovery in 2008 of a new class of iron-based, high-temperature superconducting materials. Superconductors are of general scientific interest because they may hold the key to any number of technological innovations, including super-efficient electricity generation and transmission, cheaper medical imaging scanners and high-speed levitating trains. Some of the world's earliest neutron scattering studies of these materials and related compounds were conducted at HFIR and the Spallation Neutron Source.
One researcher conducting studies at HFIR is Clarina de la Cruz, a postdoctoral researcher with a joint appointment at the University of Tennessee and ORNL. She and her colleagues are examining iron-based superconductors in pursuit of the mechanism behind high-temperature superconductivity. "For years, the only known high-temperature superconductors were copper-based," says De la Cruz. "Now, because the iron-based superconductors represent a newly discovered family of superconductors, we have a good chance of making a valuable contribution to understanding these materials."
One of the aspects of the iron-based superconductors that De la Cruz and her colleagues are studying is how the structure of the superconductors changes across temperature ranges. "Other superconductors do not indicate any structural changes in the temperature ranges in which they are superconducting," says De la Cruz. "However, these superconductors exhibit very subtle, but important, structural changes that can be detected using neutron scattering. On the basis of these studies, we are trying to determine which aspects of the structure of the iron-based superconductors might be related to their superconductivity."
De la Cruz is quick to note the importance of the HFIR user facility to her studies of superconductors and to academic users in general. "This research would be impossible to conduct in a university laboratory. Both HFIR and the Spallation Neutron Source have instruments geared specifically to study these materials. They have a much higher neutron flux that reveals more detail in less time. HFIR also has a technical staff to help set up experiments. This support makes the user experience much more efficient and allows users to focus on the science." She adds that when she started out as a user at HFIR two years ago she had no training in neutron scattering. "A lot of what I now know was learned from ORNL researchers and technical staff at the facility," she said.
Web site provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Communications and External Relations