Magazine article Science News

Electrons Made to Attract Each Other: Experiment Is Step toward High-Temp Superconductors

Magazine article Science News

Electrons Made to Attract Each Other: Experiment Is Step toward High-Temp Superconductors

Article excerpt

Standoffish electrons typically keep one another at arm's length, repelling their neighbors. But under certain circumstances, this repulsion can cause pairs of electrons to soften their stance toward one another and attract instead, new research shows. The effect may be the key to someday producing a new type of high-temperature superconductor, scientists report in the July 21 Nature.

Though the effect was first predicted over 50 years ago, previous attempts to coerce electrons to behave in this way have failed. Like charges repel, so negatively charged electrons ordinarily rebuff one another. But now researchers have validated the counterintuitive idea that an attraction between electrons can emerge. "Somehow, you have [this] magic that out of all this repulsion you can create attraction," says study coauthor Shahal Ilani, a physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Ilani and colleagues produced the effect in a bare-bones system of electrons in carbon nanotubes. Operating at temperatures just above absolute zero, the system is made up of two perpendicular carbon nanotubes--hollow cylinders of carbon atoms--about 1 nanometer in diameter.

Two electrons sit at sites inside the first nanotube. Left to their own devices, those two electrons repel one another. A second nanotube, known as the "polarizer," acts as the "glue" that allows the two electrons to attract. When the scientists brought the two nanotubes close together, Ilani says, "the electrons in the first nanotube changed their nature; they became attractive instead of repulsive."

This flip is due to the nature of the polarizer. It contains one electron, which is located at one of two sites in the carbon nanotube--either between the first nanotube's pair of electrons or farther away. …

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