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Observation of individual vortices trapped along columnar defects in high-temperature superconductors


Many superconductors do not entirely expel magnetic flux—rather, magnetic flux can penetrate the superconducting state in the form of vortices. Moving vortices create resistance, so they must be ‘pinned’ to permit dissipationless current flow. This is a particularly important issue for the high-transition-temperature superconductors, in which the vortices move very easily1. Irradiation of superconducting samples by heavy ions produces columnar defects, which are considered2 to be the optimal pinning traps when the orientation of the column coincides with that of the vortex line. Although columnar defect pinning has been investigated using macroscopic techniques3,4, it has hitherto been impossible to resolve individual vortices intersecting with individual defects. Here we achieve the resolution required to image vortex lines and columnar defects in Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ (Bi-2212) thin films, using a 1-MV field-emission electron microscope5. For our thin films, we find that the vortex lines at higher temperatures are trapped and oriented along tilted columnar defects, irrespective of the orientation of the applied magnetic field. At lower temperatures, however, vortex penetration always takes place perpendicular to the film plane, suggesting that intrinsic ‘background’ pinning in the material now dominates.

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Figure 1: Lorentz microscopy of vortices in a superconducting Bi-2212 thin film with tilted columnar defects.
Figure 2: Vortices trapped and untrapped at columnar defects in Bi-2212 thin film (H = 0.5 mT, θ = θφ = 70°).
Figure 3: Lorentz micrographs showing vortex-line arrangements under various conditions.


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We are grateful to N. Hatano for his discussions on tilted columnar defects, and to G. Pozzi, M. Beleggia, N. Osakabe, T. Yoshida and J. Masuko for their simulations of Lorentz micrographs of tilted vortex lines. We also thank F. Nori for discussions and T. Akashi and I. Matsui for help with the experiments.

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Correspondence to A. Tonomura.

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Tonomura, A., Kasai, H., Kamimura, O. et al. Observation of individual vortices trapped along columnar defects in high-temperature superconductors. Nature 412, 620–622 (2001).

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