Superconductivity's third side unmasked: To investigate this debated pairing mechanism of pnictides, the researchers studied the properties of the material’s electronic gap. Thanks to a unique set of high-energy lasers based on very rare laser crystals available to only a few laboratories, their experiments resolved these states with unprecedented detail.
Shimojima and colleagues were surprised to discover that interactions between electron spins do not cause the electrons to form Cooper pairs in the pnictides. Instead, the coupling is mediated by the electron clouds surrounding the atomic cores. Some of these so-called orbitals have the same energy, which causes interactions and electron fluctuations that are sufficiently strong to mediate superconductivity.