Tape helps maintain tight contact between two components of the system

They say duct tape (or scotch tape) fixes everything.

Well, a bit of tape certainly did the trick in a new study examining "proximity effects" in superconductors.  A "proximity effect" refers to when a superconducting material is able to induce superconducting behavior in a second material -- a semiconductor that does not typically enjoy superconductivity.

The effect is of high interest for a couple of reasons.  First, it is being examined for optoelectronic applications.  Second, it is of interest from a theoretical standpoint, as it is theorized that Majorana fermions -- an elusive type of subatomic particle -- appear at the interface.

Poor contact limited past efforts to under 10K -- a chillingly cold temperature that requires extreme measures to maintain.  The key problem is that high temperature superconductors are typically cuprates -- materials typically composed of iron, copper, and oxygen.  But cuprates have a wildly different atomic structure versus most polycrystalline semiconductors, making them virtually impossible to "grow" on the target substrate with similar techniques.  This is most unfortunate as the proximity effect is delicately tied to physical contact, and mechanical alternatives to deposition have producing unappealing results.

But in a wild twist the researchers at the University of Toronto Dept. of Physics hatched the idea to use scotch tape and glass slides to bind the two materials -- the superconductor (Bi2Se3 or Bi2Te3) and the semiconductor (Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ) -- together.

Scotch Tape
University of Toronto physics professor Ken Burch showed off the roll of tape that helped him to attain a new kind of superconductivity. [Image Source: Diana Tyszko/U of T]

The approach worked, and the researchers were able to get induced superconductivity in the semiconductor host at up to 80 Kelvin.  That's a crucial result as liquid nitrogen is slightly below 77K, offering a much cheaper alternative to expensive liquid helium cooling or other more radical cryogenic methods.

Comments physics Professor Ken Burch, the study's senior author, "Typically, junctions between semi-conductors and superconductors were made by complex material growth procedures and fabricating devices with features smaller than a human hair.  However the cuprates have a completely different structure and complex chemical make-up that simply can't be incorporated with a normal semiconductor."

On the novel solution he adds, "Who would have thought simply sticking things together can generate entirely new effects?"

The sticky study has been published [abstract] in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.  The work funded by a variety of U.S. and Canadian research grants -- with money coming from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Ministry for Innovation, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Sources: Nature Communications, University of Toronto

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