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Imaging the effects of individual zinc impurity atoms on superconductivity in Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ


Although the crystal structures of the copper oxide high-temperature superconductors are complex and diverse, they all contain some crystal planes consisting of only copper and oxygen atoms in a square lattice: superconductivity is believed to originate from strongly interacting electrons in these CuO2 planes. Substituting a single impurity atom for a copper atom strongly perturbs the surrounding electronic environment and can therefore be used to probe high-temperature superconductivity at the atomic scale. This has provided the motivation for several experimental1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and theoretical studies9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20. Scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM) is an ideal technique for the study of such effects at the atomic scale, as it has been used very successfully to probe individual impurity atoms in several other systems21,22,23,24,25. Here we use STM to investigate the effects of individual zinc impurity atoms in the high-temperature superconductor Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ. We find intense quasiparticle scattering resonances26 at the Zn sites, coincident with strong suppression of superconductivity within 15 Å of the scattering sites. Imaging of the spatial dependence of the quasiparticle density of states in the vicinity of the impurity atoms reveals the long-sought four-fold symmetric quasiparticle ‘cloud’ aligned with the nodes of the d-wave superconducting gap which is believed to characterize superconductivity in these materials.

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Figure 1: Topographic image and associated low-energy DOS-map of the surface layer (BiO) of a cleaved single crystal of BSCCO.
Figure 2: Two tunnelling spectra measured on the same surface shown in Fig. 1.
Figure 3: Relationship between the position of the Bi atoms on the crystal surface, the resonant DOS structure at the Zn atom, and the position of the Cu and O atoms in the superconducting plane two layers below.
Figure 4: Evolution of the differential tunnelling conductance at the resonance energy, and the full conductance spectrum, with distance from the Zn site.


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We thank A. Balatsky, D. Bonn, M. Crommie, M. Flatté, M. Franz, S. Kashiwaya, A. de Lozanne, A. MacDonald, V. Madhavan, M. Ogata, J. Orenstein, D. J. Scalapino, Z.-X. Shen, Y. Tanaka and D. van der Marel for conversations and communications. This work was supported by the LDRD Program of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under contract to the Department of Energy, by the D. & L. Packard Foundation, by an IBM predoctoral fellowship (K.M.L.), by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Area (Japan), and by a COE grant from the Ministry of Education, Japan.

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Correspondence to J. C. Davis.

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Pan, S., Hudson, E., Lang, K. et al. Imaging the effects of individual zinc impurity atoms on superconductivity in Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ. Nature 403, 746–750 (2000).

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