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Unconventional short-range structural fluctuations in cuprate superconductors...

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Scientific Reports
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The interplay between structural and electronic degrees of freedom in complex materials is the subject of extensive debate in physics and materials science. Particularly interesting questions pertain to the nature and extent of pre-transitional short-range order in diverse systems ranging from shape-memory alloys to unconventional superconductors, and how this microstructure affects macroscopic properties. Here we use neutron and X-ray diffuse scattering to uncover universal structural fluctuations in La2-xSrxCuO4 and Tl2Ba2CuO6+δ, two cuprate superconductors with distinct point disorder effects and with optimal superconducting transition temperatures that differ by more than a factor of two. The fluctuations are present in wide doping and temperature ranges, including compositions that maintain high average structural symmetry, and they exhibit unusual, yet simple scaling behaviour. The scaling regime is robust and universal, similar to the well-known critical fluctuations close to second-order phase transitions, but with a distinctly different physical origin. We relate this behaviour to pre-transitional phenomena in a broad class of systems with structural and magnetic transitions, and propose an explanation based on rare structural fluctuations caused by intrinsic nanoscale inhomogeneity. We also uncover parallels with superconducting fluctuations, which indicates that the underlying inhomogeneity plays an important role in cuprate physics.