Physicists develop superconductor two atoms thick

Austin, Texas — The thinnest superconducting metal layer ever created – only two atoms thick – has been developed by physicists at the University of Texas in Austin.

The development of the thin superconducting sheets of lead has big implications for the future of superconductor technologies, say the scientists.

“To be able to control this material — to shape it into new geometries — and explore what happens is very exciting,” says Dr Ken Shih, the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor in Physics. “My hope is that this superconductive surface will enable one to build devices and study new properties of superconductivity.”

In superconductors, electrons move through the material together in pairs, called Cooper pairs. One of the innovative properties of Shih’s ultra-thin lead is that it forces the electrons to move in two dimensions, or one ‘quantum channel’ – like ballroom dancers gliding across the floor, say the researchers. Uniquely, the lead remains a good superconductor despite the constrained movement of the electrons through the metal.

Shih and his colleagues used advanced materials synthesis techniques to lay the two-atom thick sheet of lead atop a thin silicon surface. The lead sheets are highly uniform with no impurities.

“We can make this film, and it has perfect crystalline structure — more perfect than most thin films made of other materials,” Shih says.

The scientists report the properties of their superconducting film in Science.