Until now, copper-laden materials called cuprates have been the only superconductors whose transition temperatures are higher than the liquid nitrogen boiling point at -321F (77 K). Whether researchers can make transition temperatures higher in such materials remains a challenge.
Now, researchers at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory, with colleagues, have unexpectedly found that the transition temperature can be induced under two different intense pressures in a three-layered bismuth oxide crystal referred to as "Bi2223." The higher pressure produces the higher transition temperature. They believe this unusual two-step phenomena comes from competition of electronic behavior in different kinds of copper-oxygen layers in the crystal. The work is published in the August 19, 2010, issue of Nature.
"Bi2223 is like a layered cake," explained lead author Xiao-Jia Chen at Carnegie. "On the top and bottom there are insulating bismuth-oxide layers. On the inside of those, come layers of strontium oxide. Next, are layers of copper oxide, then calcium, and finally the middle is another copper-oxide layer. Interestingly, the outermost and inner layers of copper oxide have different physical properties resulting in an imbalance of electric charge between the layers."