Open access peer-reviewed chapter

SQUID Magnetometers, Josephson Junctions, Confinement and BCS Theory of Superconductivity

Written By

Navin Khaneja

Submitted: October 9th, 2018Reviewed: December 21st, 2018Published: March 6th, 2019

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.83714

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A superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) is the most sensitive magnetic flux sensor currently known. The SQUID can be seen as a flux to voltage converter, and it can generally be used to sense any quantity that can be transduced into a magnetic flux, such as electrical current, voltage, position, etc. The extreme sensitivity of the SQUID is utilized in many different fields of applications, including biomagnetism, materials science, metrology, astronomy and geophysics. The heart of a squid magnetometer is a tunnel junction between two superconductors called a Josephson junction. Understanding the work of these devices rests fundamentally on the BCS theory of superconductivity. In this chapter, we introduce the notion of local potential and confinement in superconductivity. We show how BCS ground state is formed from interaction of wave packets confined to these local potential wells. The starting point of the BCS theory of superconductivity is a phonon-mediated second-order term that describes scattering of electron pair at Fermi surface with momentum k i , − k i and energy 2 ℏ ω i to k j , − k j with energy 2 ℏ ω j . The transition amplitude is M = − d 2 ω d ω i − ω j 2 − ω d 2 , where d is the phonon scattering rate and ω d is the Debye frequency. However, in the presence of offset ω i − ω j , there is also a present transition between states k i , − k i and k j , − k i of sizable amplitude much larger than M . How are we justified in neglecting this term and only retaining M ? In this chapter, we show all this is justified if we consider phonon-mediated transition between wave packets of finite width instead of electron waves. These wave packets are in their local potentials and interact with other wave packets in the same well to form a local BCS state we also call BCS molecule. Finally, we apply the formalism of superconductivity in finite size wave packets to high Tc in cuprates. The copper electrons in narrow d-band live as packets to minimize the repulsion energy. The phonon-mediated coupling between wave packets (of width Debye energy) is proportional to the number of k-states in a packet, which becomes large in narrow d-band (10 times s-band); hence, d-wave Tc is larger (10 times s-wave). At increased doping, packet size increases beyond the Debye energy, and phonon-mediated coupling develops a repulsive part, destroying superconductivity at large doping levels.


  • local potentials
  • superconductivity
  • phonons
  • Josephson junctions
  • squids

1. Introduction

There is a very interesting phenomenon that takes place in solid-state physics when certain metals are cooled below critical temperature of order of few Kelvin. The resistance of these metals completely disappears and they become superconducting. How does this happen? One may guess that maybe at low temperatures there are no phonons. That is not true, as we have low frequency phonons present. Why do we then lose all resistivity? Electrons bind together to form a molecule by phonon-mediated interaction. The essence of this interaction is that electron can pull on the lattice which pulls on another electron. This phonon-mediated bond is not very strong for only few meV, but at low temperatures, this is good enough; we cannot break it with collisions with phonons which only carry kBTamount of energy which is small at low temperatures. Then, electrons do not travel alone; they travel in a bunch, as a big molecule; and you cannot scatter them with phonon collisions.

This phenomenon whereby many materials exhibit complete loss of electrical resistance when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature [1, 2] is called superconductivity. It was discovered in mercury by Dutch physicist Onnes in 1911. For decades, a fundamental understanding of this phenomenon eluded the many scientists who were working in the field. Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, a remarkably complete and satisfactory theoretical picture of the classic superconductors emerged in terms of the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory [3]. Before we talk about the BCS theory, let us introduce the notion of local potentials.

Shown in Figure 1 is a bar of metal. How are electrons in this metal bar? Solid-state physics texts start by putting these electrons in a periodic potential [4, 5, 6]. But that is not the complete story.

Figure 1.

Depiction of a metallic bar.

Shown in Figure 2 is a periodic array of metal ions. Periodic arrangement divides the region into cells (region bounded by dashed lines in Figure 2 ) such that the potential in the ith cell has the form


Figure 2.

Depiction of the potential due to metal ions. A rapidly varying periodic partAand slowly varying partB.

where aiis co-ordinate of the ion in the cell i. Eq. 1 has part A, the own ion potential. This gives the periodic part of the potential shown as thick curves in Figure 2 and part B, the other ion potential. This is shown as dashed curve (trough or basin) in Figure 2 . We do not talk much about this potential in solid-state physics texts though it is prominent (for infinite lattice, part B is constant that we can subtract). For Z=1and a=3A, we have V0=e4πϵ0a3V. Then, the other ion potential has magnitude lnnV0at its ends and 2lnn2V0in the centre. The centre is deeper by lnn2V0. Let us say metal block is of length 30 cm with total sites n=109; then, we are talking about a trough that is ∼50 V deep. At room temperature, the kinetic energy of the electrons in 12kBT=.02eV(as we will see subsequently, Fermi-Dirac statistics give much higher kinetic energies), the trough is deep enough to confine these electrons. It is this trough, basin or confining potential that we talk about in this chapter. Electrons move around in this potential as wave packets as shown in Figure 3A . Electrons can then be treated as a Fermi gas as shown in Figure 3B . While gas molecules in a container rebound of wall, the confining potential ensures electrons roll back before reaching the ends.

Figure 3.

Depiction of Fermi gas of electrons in a metal moving in a confining potential.

Coming back to a more realistic estimate of the kinetic energy, electron wave function is confined to length L=na(due to confining potential); then, we can expand its eigenfunctions expi2πmnax=expikxwith energies 2k22m. We fill each kstate with two electrons with π2akπ2a, and kinetic energy of electrons goes from 0 to 2π22a2m5eV. This spread of kinetic energy is modified in the presence of periodic potential. We then have an energy band as shown in Figure 4 with a bandwidth of 5–10 eV.

Figure 4.

The dispersion curve and energy band for electrons in a periodic potential.

With this energy bandwidth, electrons are all well confined by the confining potential. In fact we do not need a potential of depth 50 eV; to confine the electrons, we can just do it with a depth of ∼10 eV which means a length of around L0 ∼ 300 Å. It means electrons over length L0 are confined, and due to screeningby electrons outside L0, they simply do not see any potential from ions outside this length. Thus, we get a local confining potential, and the picture is shown in Figure 5 , many local wells. This is what we call local potentials or local volumes. Estimate of L0 is a 1D calculation; in 3D it comes to a well of smaller diameter. However, if we account for electron–electron repulsion, then our earlier 1D estimate is probably okay. In any case, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. They are more qualitative than quantitative. The different wave packets in a local volume do not leave the volume as they see a local potential due to positive atomic ions. They just move back and forth in a local volume. When we apply an electric field say along xdirection, the wave packets accelerate in that direction, and the local volume moves in that direction as a whole. This is electric current. Electrons are moving at very high velocity up to 105 m/s (Fermi velocity) in their local volumes, but that motion is just a back-and-forth motion and does not constitute current. The current arises when the local volume moves as a whole due to applied electric field. This is much slower at say drift velocity of 103m/s for an ampere current through a wire of cross section 1 mm2.

Figure 5.

Depiction of local potentials due to metal ions that locally confine electrons.

In this chapter, we spell out the main ideas of the BCS theory. The BCS theory tells us how to use phonon-mediated interaction to bind electrons together, so that we have big molecule and we call the BCS ground state or the BCS molecule. At low temperatures, phonons do not have energy to break the bonds in the molecule; hence, electrons in the molecule do not scatter phonons. So, let us see how BCS binds these electrons into something big.


2. Cooper pairs and binding

Let us take two electrons, both at the Fermi surface, one with momentum k1 and other k1. Let us see how they interact with phonons. Electron k1 pulls/plucks on the lattice due to Coulomb attraction and in the process creates (emits) a phonon and thereby recoils to new momentum k2. The resulting lattice vibration is sensed by electron k1which absorbs this oscillation and is thrown back to momentum k2. The total momentum is conserved in the process. This is depicted in Figure 6A . The corresponding Feynman diagram for this process is shown in Figure 6B . The above process where two electrons interact with exchange of phonon can be represented as a three-level atomic system. Level 1 is the initial state of the electrons k1,k1, level 3 is the final state of the electrons k2,k2and the level 2 is the intermediate state k2,k1. There is a transition with strength Ω=dbetween levels 1 and 2 involving emission of a phonon and a transition with strength Ωbetween levels 2 and 3 involving absorption of a phonon. Let E1,E2,E3be the energy of the three levels. Since pairs are at Fermi surface, E1=E3. The state of the three-level system evolves according to the Schrödinger equation:


Figure 6.

(A) Depiction of the Fermi sphere and how electron pairk1,k1at Fermi sphere scatters tok2,k2at the Fermi sphere. (B) How this is mediated by exchange of a phonon in a Feynman diagram. (C) A three-level system that captures the various transitions involved in this process.

We proceed into the interaction frame of the natural Hamiltonian (system energies) by transformation


This gives for ΔE=E2E1


Htis periodic with period Δt=2πΔE. After Δt, the system evolution is


The first integral averages to zero, while the second integral


Evaluating it explicitly, we get for our system that second-order integral is


which couples levels 1 and 3 and drives transition between them at rate M=Ω2E1E2.

Observe E1=2ϵ1and E3=2ϵ2and the electron energies E2=ϵ1+ϵ2+ϵd, where ϵd=ωdis the energy of emitted phonon. We have ϵ1=ϵ2=ϵ. Then, the transition rate between levels 1 and 3 is M=Ω2ϵd. Therefore, due to interaction mediated through lattice by exchange of phonons, the electron pair k1,k1scatters to k2,k2at rate Ω2ϵd. The scattering rate is in fact Δb=4Ω2ϵdas k1 can emit to k2 or k2. Similarly, k1can emit to k2 or k2, making it a total of four processes that can scatter k1,k1to k2,k2.

How does all this help. Suppose k1,k1and k2,k2are only two states around. Then, a state like


has energy 2ϵ+Δb. That has lower energy than the individual states in the superposition. Δbis the binding energy. Now, let us remember what is Ω. It comes from electron–phonon interaction. Let us pause, develop this a bit in the next section and come back to our discussion.


3. Electron-phonon collisions

Recall we are interested in studying how a BCS molecule scatters phonons. For this we first understand how a normal electron scatters of a thermal phonon. We also derive electron–phonon interaction (Fröhlich) Hamiltonian and show how to calculate Ωin the above. The following section is a bit lengthy as it develops ways to visualize how a thermal phonon scatters an electron.

Consider phonons in a crystalline solid. We first develop the concept of a phonon packet. To fix ideas, we start with the case of one-dimensional lattice potential. Consider a periodic potential with period a:




The potential is shown in Figure 7 .

Figure 7.

Depiction of the periodic potential inEq. (1).

Now, consider how potential changes when we perturb the lattice sites from their equilibrium position, due to lattice vibrations:


For a phonon mode with wavenumber k


we have


where p(x) is the periodic with period a. Note


Using Fourier series, we can write


We can determine a0 by a0=1aa2a2pxdx, giving


where k=2πmna. This gives


We do not worry much about arfor r0as these excite an electron to a different band and are truncated by the band-gap energy. Now, note that, using equipartition of energy, there is kBTenergy per phonon mode, giving


where ωdis the Debye frequency.

Then, we get


At temperature of T = 3 K and ωd=1013 rad/s, we have.

kBTm1ωd.03Å; with a = 3 Å, we have


with V0=10V, we have


We considered one phonon mode. Now, consider a phonon wave packet (which can also be thought of as a mode, localized in space) which takes the form


where k=mΔand Δ=2πnaand Akas in Eq. (12). Then, the resulting deformation potential from Eq. (13) by summing over all phonon modes that build a packet becomes


This deformation potential due to phonon wave packet is shown in Figure 8 . The maximum value of the potential is around V¯02.

Figure 8.

Depiction of the deformation potential inEq. (14).

3.1 Time dynamics and collisions

Of course phonons have a time dynamics given by their dispersion relation:


With the phonon dispersion relation ωkυk, where υis the velocity of sound, we get


The deformation potential travels with velocity of sound and collides with an incoming electron. To understand this collision, consider a phonon packet as in Eq. (14) centred at the origin. The packet is like a potential hill. A electron comes along say at velocity vg. If the velocity is high enough (kinetic energy 12mvg2>eV¯02) to climb the hill, it will go past the phonon as in (b) in Figure 9 , or else it will slide back, rebound of the hill and go back at the same velocity vgas in (a) in Figure 9 .

Figure 9.

Depiction on how an incoming electron goes past the deformation potential (b); if its velocity is sufficient, else it slides back and rebounds as in (a).

In the above, we assumed phonon packet is stationary; however, it moves with velocity υ. Now, consider two scenarios. In the first one, the electron and phonon are moving in opposite direction and collide. This is shown in Figure 10 .

Figure 10.

Depiction on how an electron and phonon traveling towards each other collide.

In the phonon frame the electron travels towards it with velocity vg+υ. If the velocity is high enough (kinetic energy 12mvg+υ2>eV¯02) to climb the hill, it will go past the phonon with velocity vg+υ(the resulting electron velocity in lab frame is just vg). Otherwise, it slides back, rebounds and goes back with velocity vg+υ(the velocity in lab frame is vg+2υ). Therefore, electron has gained energy:


and by conservation of energy, the phonon has lost energy, lowering its temperature.

In the second case, electron and phonon are traveling in the same direction. This is shown in Figure 11 . In the frame of phonon, electron travels towards the phonon with velocity vgυ. If the velocity is high enough (kinetic energy 12mvgυ2>eV¯02) to climb the hill, it will go past the phonon with velocity vgυ. The velocity in lab frame is vg. Otherwise, it slides back, rebounds and goes back with velocity vgυ. Then, the velocity in lab frame is vg2υ. Therefore, electron has lost energy, and by conservation of energy, the phonon has gained energy, raising its temperature.

Figure 11.

Depiction on how an electron and phonon traveling in same direction collide.

Thus, we have shown that electron and phonon can exchange energy due to collisions. Now, everything is true as in statistical mechanics, and we can go on to derive Fermi-Diracdistribution for the electrons [4, 5, 6, 7].

All our analysis has been in one dimension. In two or three dimensions, the phonon packets are phonon tides (as in ocean tides). Let us fix ideas with two dimensions, and three dimensions follow directly. Consider a two-dimensional periodic potential with period a:


Now, consider how potential changes when we perturb the lattice sites from their equilibrium position, due to lattice vibrations:


Let us consider phonons propagating along xdirection. Then, Δalconstitutes longitudinal phonons, while Δamconstitutes transverse phonons. Transverse phonons do not contribute to deformation potential as can be seen in the following. Let us focus on the transverse phonons. Then,


We have due to Δam


where pxyis the periodic with period a.



Using Fourier series, we can write


We can determine a0 by a0=1a2a2a2a2a2pxydxdy, giving a0=0. Hence, transverse phonons do not contribute. The contribution of longitudinal phonons is same as in 1D case. As before consider a wave packet of longitudinal phonons propagating along xdirection:


which gives us a deformation potential as before:


which is same along ydirection and travels with velocity υalong the xdirection except now the potential is like a tide in an ocean, as shown in Figure 12 .

Figure 12.

Depiction of the deformation potential tide as shown inEq. (21).

Since deformation potential is a tide, electron–phonon collisions do not have to be head on; they can happen at oblique angles, as shown in Figure 13 in a top view (looking down). The velocity of electron parallel to tide remains unchanged, while velocity perpendicular to tide gets reflected. If the perpendicular velocity is large enough, the electron can jump over the tide and continue as shown by a dotted line in Figure 13 . Imagining the tide in three dimensions is straightforward. In three dimensions, the deformation potential takes the form a wind gust moving in say xdirection.

Figure 13.

The top view collision of an electron with a deformation potential tide at an angleθ.

We described how a normal electron scatters phonons. Now, let us go back to our discussion on electron-phonon interaction and recall a phonon expikxwhich produces a deformation potential ΔUxas in Eq. 13. Now in three dimensions, it is


where n3 is the number of lattice points.

Using 12Mωk2Ak2=nkωk(there are nkquanta in the phonon), where Mis the mass of ion, ωkphonon frequency and replacing Ak, we get


Thus, electron-phonon coupling Hamiltonian is of form


where b,bare the annihilation and creation operators for phonon.

Using a cosine potential with V010V, we can approximate Coulomb potential. Then, with a3Aand M ∼ 20 proton masses, we have c ∼ 1 V.

We just derived an expression for the electron-phonon interaction (Fröhlich) Hamiltonian in Eq. (24) and showed how to calculate the constant c.

We said there are only two states, k1,k1and k2,k2. In general we have for i=1,,N, ki,kistates on the Fermi sphere as shown in Figure 14A , and if we form the state


it has energy 2ϵ+N1Δb.

Figure 14.

(A) Electron pairs on the fermi surface and (B) electron pairs in an annulus around the fermi surface.

The states do not have to be exactly on a Fermi surface as shown in Figure 14A ; rather, they can be in an annulus around the Fermi sphere as shown in Figure 14B . When k1,k1and k2,k2are not both on the Fermi surface (rather in an annulus) such that the energy of k1,k1is E1=2ϵ1and the energy of E3=k2,k2is 2ϵ2, with ε1ε2, then the formula of scattering amplitude (as shown in detail below) is modified to Δb=4ϵdΩ2Δϵ2ϵd2, where ϵ1ϵ2=Δϵ=ℏΔω. As long as Δω<ωd, in BCS theory, we approximate Δb4Ω2ϵd. Therefore, if we take an annulus in Figure 14B to be of width ωd, we get a total number of states in the annulus Nto be Nn3ωdωF, where n3is the total number of kpoints in the Fermi sphere and ϵF=ωFis the Fermi energy. This gives a binding energy Δb=c2ϵF. With the Fermi energy ϵF10 eV, the binding energy is ∼meV. Thus, we have shown how phonon-mediated interaction helps us bind an electron pair with energy ∼meV. This paired electron state is called Cooper pair. Now, the plan is we bind many electrons and make a big molecule called BCS ground state.

But before we proceed, a note of caution is in order when we use the formula Δb=4ϵdΩ2Δϵ2ϵd2. For this we return to phonon scattering of k1,k1and k2,k2. Consider when E1E3. Observe E1=2ϵ1=2ω1, E3=2ϵ2=2ω2, E2=ϵ1+ϵ2and ωdis the energy of the emitted phonon. All energies are with respect to Fermi surface energy ϵF. The state of the three-level system evolves according to the Schrödinger equation:


We proceed into the interaction frame of the natural Hamiltonian (system energies) by transformation:


This gives for ΔE1=ωdω1ω2Δωand ΔE2=ωd+Δω


We evaluate the effective evolution of H(t) in period Δt=2πωd. After Δt, the system evolution is


Let us calculate H¯12. Assuming Δωωd, then




and finally


Then, from Eq. (27), we get




Observe in the above the term H13effgives us the attractive potential responsible for superconductivity [3]. We say the electron pair k1,k1scatters to k2,k2at rate d2ωd. But observe dΔω, that is, term H13effis much smaller than terms H12effand H23eff: then, how are we justified in neglecting these terms. This suggests our calculation of scattering into an annulus around the Fermi surface requires caution and our expression for the binding energy may be high as binding deteriorates in the presence of offset. However, we show everything works as expected if we move to a wave-packet picture. The key idea is what we call offset averaging, which we develop now.

We have been talking about electron waves in this section. Earlier, we spent considerable time showing how electrons are wave packets confined to local potentials. We now look for phonon-mediated interaction between wave packets. A wave packet is built from many k-states (k-points). These states have slightly different energies (frequencies) which make the packet moves. We call these different frequencies offsetsfrom the centre frequency. Denote expik0xpxas a wave packet centred at momentum k0. The key idea is that due to local potential, the wave packet shuttles back and forth and comes back to its original state. This means on average that the energy difference between its k-points averages and the whole packet just evolved with frequency ωk0. We may say the packet is stationaryin the well, evolving as expik0xpxexpk0texpik0xpx. Figure 15 picturizes the offsets getting averaged by showing wave packets standing in the local potential. All we are saying is that now the whole packet has energy ϵ0. So now, we can study how packet pair (at fermi surface) centred at k1,k1scatters to k2,k2. This is shown in Figure 16A . The scattering is through a phonon packet with width localized to the local well. Let us say our electron packet width is Debye frequency ωd. If there are Nk-points in a packet, the original scattering rate Δbgets modified to NΔb. If there are ppacket pairs at the Fermi surface as shown in Figure 16A , then the state formed from superposition of packet pairs


has binding energy pNΔb. What is Npthough is really just a Nnumber of points in the annulus around the Fermi surface which we counted earlier. Hence, we recover the binding energy we derived between electrons earlier, but now it is binding of packets. Really, this way we do not have to worry about offsets when we bind; in packet land they average in local potential.

Figure 15.

The offsets getting averaged by showing wave packets standing in the local potential, bound by phonon-mediated interaction. Offset average so effectively packets are standstill; they do not move.

Figure 16.

(A) Packet pairsk1,k1andk2,k2on the Fermi surface and (B) many such pairs.

The wave packet in a potential well shuttles back and forth, which averages the offsets ωiωjto zero. Then, the question of interest is how fast do we average these offsets compared to packet width which we take as Debye frequency ωd. For sorbitals or waves, the bandwidth is ∼10 eV giving Fermi velocity of 105 m/s, which for a characteristic length of the potential well as ∼300 Å, corresponds to a packet shuttling time of around 1013s, which is same as the Debye frequency ωd, so we may say we average the offsets in a packet. By the time offsets have evolved significantly, the packet already returns to its original position, and we may say there are no offsets.

We saw how two electrons bind to form a Cooper pair. However, for a big molecule, we need to bind many electrons. How this works will be discussed now. The basic idea is with many electrons; we need space for electron wave packets to scatter to. For example, when there was only one packet pair at the Fermi surface, it could scatter into all possible other packet pairs, and we saw how we could then form a superposition of these states. Now, suppose we have 2ppacket pairs possible on the Fermi surface. We begin with assuming pof these are occupied with electrons and remaining pempty. This way we create space for the ppairs to scatter into; otherwise, if all are full, how will we scatter? How do these empty spaces come about? We just form packets with twice the bandwidth as there are electrons. Then, half of these packets are empty as shown in Figure 17 .

Figure 17.

Packets at the Fermi surface that has twice the number of k-states as electrons. This means half the packet sites will be empty.


4. BCS ground state

Let kFdenote wavevector radius of the Fermi sphere. We describe electron wave packets formed from k-points (wavevectors) near the Fermi sphere surface. Figure 18 shows the Fermi sphere with surface as thick circle and an annulus of thickness ωd(energy units) shown in dotted lines. Pockets have n, k-points in radial direction (n2inside and same outside the Fermi sphere) and m2 points in the tangential direction. Figure 18 shows such a pocket enlarged with k-points shown in black dots. We assume there are 4psuch pockets with N=nm2points in each pocket. In pocket s, we form the function


Figure 18.

Depiction of the Fermi sphere with surface as a thick circle and an annulus of thicknessωd(energy units) shown in dotted lines. Pockets with k-points are shown in black dots. Superposition of these k-points in a pocket forms a wave packet.

ϕshas characteristic width a. From Npoints in a pocket, we can form Nsuch functions by displacing ϕsto ϕsrma, and putting these functions uniformly spaced over the whole lattice in their local potential wells. Thus, each pocket gives Nwave packets orthogonal as they are nonoverlapping and placed uniformly over the lattice in their local potential wells. Furthermore, ϕsand ϕsare orthogonal as they are formed from mutually exclusive k-points. The wave packet ϕsmoves with a group velocity υ, which is the Fermi velocity in a radial direction to the pocket from which it is formed. From wave packet ϕsand its antipodal packet ϕs, we form the joint wave packet:


As we will see soon, Φswill be our Cooper pair.

As shown in last section, the Cooper pair Φsscatters to Φswith rate M=4d2Nωd. Now, we study how to form BCS state with many wave packets. We present a counting argument. Observe ϕsis made of Nk-points, and hence by displacement of ϕs, we have Nnonoverlapping lattice sites (potential wells) where we can put copies of ϕsas described in Section 4. However of the Nk-points, only N2are inside the Fermi sphere so we only have only N2wave packets. Therefore, 12of the wave-packet sites are empty. Hence, of the 2ppossible Cooper pairs, only pare filled and pare not present. Hence, when Φsscatters to Φs, we have pchoices for s. Then, we can form a joint state of Cooper pairs present and write it as Φi1Φi2Φip. Doing a superposition of such states, we get the superconducting state:


The binding energy of this state is 4d2Np2ωdas each index in Ψscatters to pstates. Since 4pNare the total k-points in the annulus surrounding the Fermi surface. We have Ω=cn3where cis of order 1 eV and n3 is the total number of lattice sites in the solid. Then, 4Npn3ωdωF. Thus, the binding energy is pccωF(cc2ωFper wave packet/electron). The Fermi energy ωFis of order 10 eV, while ωd.1eV. Thus, binding energy per wave packet is of order .05 eV. The average kinetic energy of the wave packet is just the Fermi energy ϵFas it is made of superposition of N2points inside and N2points outside the Fermi sphere. If the wave packet was just formed from k-point inside the Fermi surface, its average energy would be ϵFωd4. Thus, we pay a price of ωd4.025 eV per wave packet; when we form our wave packet out of Nk-points, half of which are outside the Fermi sphere. Thus, per electron wave packet, we have a binding energy of ∼.025 eV around 20 meV. Therefore, forming a superconducting state is only favorable if ccωF>ωd4. Observe if cis too small, then forming the superconducting state is not useful, as the gain of binding energy is offsetted by the price we pay in having wave packets that have excursion outside the Fermi surface.

Next, we study how low-frequency thermal phonons try to break the BCS molecule. The electron wave packet collides with the phonon and gets deflected, which means the Cooper pair gets broken. Then, the superconducting state constitutes p1pairs and damaged pair. Each term in the state in Eq. (37) will scatter to pp1states, and the binding energy is 4d2Npp1ωd. The total binding energy has reduced by Δ=4d2Npωd, the superconducting gap. The phonon with which the superconducting electron collides carries an energy kBT. When this energy is less than Δ, the electron cannot be deflected and will not scatter as we cannot pay for the increase of energy. Therefore, superconducting electrons do not scatter phonons. However, this is not the whole story as the phonon can deflect the electron slightly from its course and over many such collisions break the Cooper pair; then, the energy budget Δis paid in many increments of kBT. These are small angle scattering events. Thus, there will be a finite probability qthat a Cooper pair is broken, and we say we have excited a Bogoliubov[8]. This probability can be calculated using Boltzmann distribution. In a superconducting state with 2p, wave packets on average 2pqwill be damaged/deflected. This leaves only p=p12qgood pairs which give an average energy per pair to be 12qΔ. The probability that the superconducting electron will be deflected of phonon is


which gives


When kBTc=Δ, the above equation gives q=12and gap 12qΔgoes to zero. Tcis the critical temperature where superconducting transition sets in.


5. Molecular orbitals of BCS states

We now come to interaction of neighboring BCS molecules. In our picture of local potentials, we have electron wave packets in each potential well that are coupled as pairs by phonon to form the BCS ground state. What is important is that there is a BCS ground state in each potential well. When we bring two such wells in proximity, the ground state wave functions overlap, and we form a molecular orbital between these BCS orbitals. This is shown in Figure 19 .

Figure 19.

Depiction of two BCS ground states in local potential wells separated in a weak link.

If Φ1and Φ2are the orbitals of Cooper pair in individual potential wells, then the overlap creates a transition d=Φ12eUΦ2, where Uis the potential well, with 2ecoming from the electron pair charge. Then, the linear combination of atomic orbital (LCAO) aΦ1+bΦ2evolves as


where ϵ1,ϵ2is the Fermi energy of the electron pair in two orbitals. ϵ1=ϵ2unless we apply a voltage difference vbetween them; then, ϵ1ϵ2=v. Let us start with v=0and ab=11, and then nothing happens, but when there is phase difference ab=1exp, then abevolves and we say we have supercurrent Isinϕbetween two superconductors. This constitutes the Josephson junction (in a Josephson junction, there is a thin insulator separating two BCS states or superconductors). Applying vgenerates a phase difference dtvbetween the two orbitals which then evolves under d.

We talked about two BCS states separated by a thin insulator in a Josephson junction. In an actual superconductor, we have an array (lattice) of such localized BCS states as shown in Figure 20 . Different phases ϕiinduce a supercurrent as in Josephson junction.

Figure 20.

Depiction of array of local BCS states in local potential wells with different phases.

If Φidenotes the local Cooper pairs, then their overlap creates a transition d=Φi2eUΦi+1, where Uis the potential well, with 2ecoming from the electron pair charge. Then, the LCAO aiΦievolves as


where ϵi=ϵ0is the Fermi energy of the electron pair in BCS state Φi. ϵiis same unless we apply a voltage difference vto the superconductor. Eq. 40 is the tight-binding approximation model for superconductor.

What we have now is a new lattice of potential wells as shown in Figure 20 with spacing of b ∼ 300 Å as compared to the original lattice of a ∼ 3 Å, which means 100 times larger. We have an electron pair at each lattice site. The state


is the ground state of new lattice (Eq. 40). A state like


has a momentum and constitutes the supercurrent. It has energy ϵk=ϵ02Δ+2dcoskb.

In the presence of electric field E, we get on the diagonal of RHS of Eq. 40, additional potential eExi. How does ϕkevolve under this field? Verify with kt=keEt; ϕktis a solution with eigenvalue ϵkt. In general, in the presence of time varying Et, we have kt=k2e0tEτ..

Now, consider the local BCS states in Figure 20 put in a loop. If we turn on a magnetic field (say in time T) through the centre of the loop, it will establish a transient electric field in the loop given by


where ris radius and arthe area of the loop. Then, by the above argument, the wavenumber kof the BCS states is shifted by Δk=2e0TEτ=2eBar2πr. Since we have closed loop with Φ0=Bar




This is the magnetic quantum flux. When one deals with the superconducting loop or a hole in a bulk superconductor, it turns out that the magnetic flux threading such a hole/loop is quantized [9, 10] as just shown.

Figure 21 depicts the schematic of a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) where two superconductors S1 and S2 are separated by thin insulators. A small flux through the SQUID creates a phase difference in the two superconductors (see discussion on Δkabove) leading to the flow of supercurrent. If an initial phase, δ0exists between the superconductors. Then, this phase difference after application of flux is from Eq. (42), δa=δ0+eΦ0across top insulator and δa=δ0eΦ0across bottom insulator (see Figure 21 ). This leads to currents Ja=I0sinδaand Jb=I0sinδbthrough top and down insulators. The total current J=Ja+Jb=2I0sinδ0coseΦ0. This accumulates charge on one side of SQUID and leads to a potential difference between the two superconductors. Therefore, the flux is converted to a voltage difference. The voltage oscillates as the phase difference eΦ0goes in integral multiples of πfor every flux quanta Φ0. SQUID is the most sensitive magnetic flux sensor currently known. The SQUID can be seen as a flux to voltage converter, and it can generally be used to sense any quantity that can be transduced into a magnetic flux, such as electrical current, voltage, position, etc. The extreme sensitivity of the SQUID is utilized in many different fields of applications, including biomagnetism, materials science, metrology, astronomy and geophysics.

Figure 21.

Depiction of the schematic of a SQUID where two superconductorsS1 andS2 are separated by thin insulators.


6. Meissner effect

When a superconductor placed in an magnetic field is cooled below its critical Tc, we find it expel all magnetic field from its inside. It does not like magnetic field in its interior. This is shown in Figure 22 .

Figure 22.

Depiction of the Meissner effect whereby the magnetic field inside a superconductor is expulsed when we cool it below its superconducting temperatureTc.

German physicists Walther Meissner and Robert Ochsenfeld discovered this phenomenon in 1933 by measuring the magnetic field distribution outside superconducting tin and lead samples. The samples, in the presence of an applied magnetic field, were cooled below their superconducting transition temperature, whereupon the samples canceled nearly all interior magnetic fields. A superconductor with little or no magnetic field within it is said to be in the Meissner state. The Meissner state breaks down when the applied magnetic field is too large. Superconductors can be divided into two classes according to how this breakdown occurs. In type-I superconductor if the magnetic field is above certain threshold Hc, no expulsion takes place. In type-II superconductors, raising the applied field past a critical value Hc1 leads to a mixed state (also known as the vortex state) in which an increasing amount of magnetic flux penetrates the material, but there remains no resistance to the electric current as long as the current is not too large. At a second critical field strength Hc2, no magnetic field expulsion takes place. How can we explain Meissner effect?

We talked about how wave packets shuttle back and forth in local potentials and get bound by phonons to form a BCS molecule. In the presence of a magnetic field, they do not shuttle. Instead, they do cyclotron motion with frequency ω=eBm. This is shown in Figure 23 . At a field of about 1 Tesla, this is about 1011 rad/s. Recall our packets had a width of ωD1013Hz and the shuttling time of packets was 10−13 s, so that the offsets in a packet do not evolve much in the time the packet is back. But, when we are doing cyclotron motion, it takes 10−11 s (at 1 T field) to come back, and by that time, the offsets evolve a lot, which means poor binding. It means in the presence of magnetic field we cannot bind well. Therefore, physics wants to get rid of magnetic field, bind and lower the energy. Magnetic field hurts binding and therefore it is expelled. But if the magnetic field is increased, then the cyclotron frequency increases, and at a critical value, our packet returns home much faster, allowing for little offset evolution; therefore, we can bind and there is no need to expulse the magnetic field. This explains the critical field.

Figure 23.

(A) Depiction on how packets shuttle back and forth in local potential and (B) how they execute a cyclotron motion in the presence of a magnetic field.


7. Giaever tunnelling

When we bring two metals in proximity, separated by a thin-insulating barrier, apply a tiny voltage nd then the current will flow in the circuit. There is a thin-insulating barrier, but electrons will tunnel through the barrier. Now, what will happen if these metals are replaced by a superconductor? These are a set of experiments carried out by Norwegian-American physicist Ivar Giaever who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 with Leo Esaki and Brian Josephson “for their discoveries regarding tunnelling phenomena in solids”. What he found was that if one of the metals is a superconductor, the electron cannot just come in, as there is an energy barrier of Δ, the superconducting gap. Your applied voltage has to be at least as big as Δfor tunneling to happen. This is depicted in Figure 24 . Let us see why this is the case.

Figure 24.

(A) Depiction on how a tiny voltage between two metals separated by an insulating barrier generates current that goes through an insulating barrier through tunneling. (B) If one of the metals is a superconductor, then the applied voltage has to be at least as big as the superconducting gap.

Recall in our discussion of superconducting state that we had 2ppockets of which pwere empty. We had a binding energy of 4d2Np2ωd. What will it cost to bring in an extra electron as shown in Figure 25 ? It will go in one of the empty pockets, and then we have only p1pockets left to scatter to reducing the binding energy to 4d2Npp1ωdwith a change Δ=4d2Npωd. Therefore, the new electron raises the energy by Δ, and therefore to offset this increase of energy, we have to apply a voltage as big as Δfor tunneling to happen.

Figure 25.

Depiction on how upon tunneling an extra electron, shown in dashed lines, enters the superconducting state.


8. High Tcin cuprates

High-temperature superconductors (abbreviated high-Tcor HTS) are materials that behave as superconductors at unusually high temperatures. The first high-Tcsuperconductor was discovered in 1986 by IBM researchers Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller, who were awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physics “for their important break-through in the discovery of superconductivity in ceramic materials”.

Whereas “ordinary” or metallic superconductors usually have transition temperatures (temperatures below which they are superconductive) below 30 K (243.2°C) and must be cooled using liquid helium in order to achieve superconductivity, HTS have been observed with transition temperatures as high as 138 K (135°C) and can be cooled to superconductivity using liquid nitrogen. Compounds of copper and oxygen (so-called cuprates) are known to have HTS properties, and the term high-temperature superconductor was used interchangeably with cuprate superconductor. Examples are compounds such as lanthanum strontium copper oxide (LASCO) and neodymium cerium copper oxide (NSCO).

Let us take lanthanum copper oxide La2CuO4, where lanthanum donates three electrons and copper donates two and oxygen accepts two electrons and all valence is satisfied. The Cuis in state Cu2+ with electrons in d9 configuration [11]. dorbitals are all degenerated, but due to crystal field splitting, this degeneracy is broken, and dx2y2orbital has the highest energy and gets only one electron (the ninth one) and forms a band of its own. This band is narrow, and hence all kstates get filled by only one electron each and form Wannier packets that localize electrons on their respective sites. This way electron repulsion is minimized, and in the limit Ut(repulsion term in much larger than hopping), we have Mott insulator and antiferromagnetic phase.

When we hole/electron dope, we remove/add electron to dx2y2band. For example, La2xSrxCuO4is hole doped as Sr has valence 2 and its presence further removes electrons from copper. Nd2xCexCuO4is electron doped as Ce has valence 4 and its presence adds electrons from copper. These extra holes/electrons form packets. When we discussed superconductivity, we discussed packets of width ωd. In d-bands, a packet of this width has many more kstates as d-bands are narrow and only 1–2 eV thick. This means N(k-points in a packet) is very large and we have much larger gap Δand Tc. This is a way to understand high Tc, d-wave packets with huge bandwidths. This is as shown in Figure 26 . As we increase doping and add more electrons, the packet width further increases till it is ωd; then, we have significant offset evolution, and binding is hurt leading to loss of superconductivity. This explains the domecharacteristic of superconducting phase, whereby superconductivity increases and then decreases with doping. The superconducting domeis shown in Figure 27 .

Figure 26.

(A) Depiction on how in narrowdband the electron wave packet comprises allkpoints to minimize repulsion. (B) The wave packet in two dimensions with wave packet formed from superposition of k-points (along the k-direction) inside the Fermi sphere.

Figure 27.

The characteristic phase diagram of a highTccuprate. Shown are the antiferromagnetic insulator (AF) phase on the left anddome-shaped superconducting phase (SC) in the centre.


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Written By

Navin Khaneja

Submitted: October 9th, 2018Reviewed: December 21st, 2018Published: March 6th, 2019