The curious case of cuprates

The curious case of cuprates

The concept of conductors and insulators is a simple one: the capability of a material to let electricity flow comes from the manner in which electrons within their atoms are set. According to these configurations, all materials out there are either insulators or conductors of electricity. However, the category of superconductors is what has left the scientists puzzled- mostly difficult to model these uniformly in order to use the principle effectively as solutions to any problems. But cuprates, a category of enigmatic materials that are made of copper oxides, which were discovered in 1986 and fetched its finders a Nobel Prize in 1987. It is famous in the world of science for being a bit of a misfit, as it serves as both insulators and conductors. Under normal conditions, cuprates are insulators: materials that inhibit the flow of electrons. But on altered composition, they can act into the world’s best superconductors. In order to therefore use this arrangement to produce man-made superconductivity, scientists must fully understand the electron configuration of this material; and here’s where the problems come in. Mapping the electronic configuration of these materials is arguably one of the toughest challenges in theoretical physics, says Arun Bansil, University Distinguished Professor of Physics at Northeastern. And, he says, because superconductivity is a weird phenomenon that only happens at temperatures as low as -300° F (or about as cold as it gets on Uranus), figuring out the mechanisms that make it possible in the first place could help researchers make superconductors that work at room temperature.


This complexity is often compared to the old Indian myth of the blind man and the elephant, where the man using the sense of touch would touch the various parts of the elephant such as the legs, trunk or tail- all giving a limited context of what the creature really is. The research on these elements is about eventually finding the right approach. Understanding the concept of cuprates could not only help us model the concept of superconductivity, but offer a much more holistic view of the property.


Sharanya Mathur

sharanya mathur

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