Thursday, April 24, 2008

Death For Phonons In High-Tc Superconductors?

This is a highly interesting and certainly provocative result.

Remember I posted a while back on the "kink" observed in the angle-resolved photoemission spectra (ARPES) on high-Tc superconductors? There have been a continuing debate since the kink was observed on the origin of this observation. Two leading candidates are the coupling of the charge carrier to a spin fluctuation mode, and a coupling to the phonons.

Now two separate theoretical papers have calculated the coupling to the phonon modes and have arrived at the conclusion that such coupling cannot account for the strength of the kink observed in ARPES spectra.

In recent years, despite mounting experimental evidence against it, some physicists have clung on to this interpretation. But now teams from Germany and the US have performed calculations to suggest that lattice vibrations in cuprates can at best account for just a small fraction of the materials’ superconducting behaviour.
Manske’s team found that the theoretical energy–momentum relationship produced by these calculations did contain a kink — but about a three to five times smaller than the 2001 observations (Phys. Rev. Lett. 100 137001). This is bad news for physicists who have been hoping phonons can account for all of the behaviour of high-temperature superconductors. “It is embarrassing for people to admit they have worked on something for 20 years if it is not true,” jokes Manske.

Meanwhile, Steven Louie and colleagues at the Univerisity of California in Berkeley have come to a similar conclusion with the cuprate LaSrCuO4. From their calculations, the phonon contribution is almost an order of magnitude too small for the observed kink (Nature 452 975).

This could be rather devastating to the phonon picture. If this is true, the two new results still cannot account for the origin of superconductivity, but at least they have eliminated a red herring. Still, all this could be moot if an earlier report is true about the absence of any kind of "glue" in the mechanism for high-Tc superconductors.

So stay tune. The story is by no means over, and the fat lady hasn't even warmed her vocal cords yet.

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