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Imaging the granular structure of high-Tc superconductivity in underdoped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ


Granular superconductivity occurs when microscopic superconducting grains are separated by non-superconducting regions; Josephson tunnelling between the grains establishes the macroscopic superconducting state1. Although crystals of the copper oxide high-transition-temperature (high-Tc) superconductors are not granular in a structural sense, theory suggests that at low levels of hole doping the holes can become concentrated at certain locations resulting in hole-rich superconducting domains2,3,4,5. Granular superconductivity arising from tunnelling between such domains would represent a new view of the underdoped copper oxide superconductors. Here we report scanning tunnelling microscope studies of underdoped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ that reveal an apparent segregation of the electronic structure into superconducting domains that are 3 nm in size (and local energy gap <50 meV), located in an electronically distinct background. We used scattering resonances at Ni impurity atoms6 as ‘markers’ for local superconductivity7,8,9; no Ni resonances were detected in any region where the local energy gap Δ > 50 ± 2.5 meV. These observations suggest that underdoped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ is a mixture of two different short-range electronic orders with the long-range characteristics of a granular superconductor.

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Figure 1: Typical gap maps from underdoped and as-grown Bi-2212 samples, each showing an area of 560 Å × 560 Å.
Figure 2: Data obtained at high spatial resolution, showing the typical spatial interrelationship of Δ and G(Δ) for underdoped Bi-2212.
Figure 3: Typical series of dI/dV spectra illustrating how the two distinct types of regions are apparent in the raw data.
Figure 4: Analysis of the relationship between Ni scattering resonances and local Δ.


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We thank A. V. Balatsky, E. Dagotto, M. E. Flatté, S. A. Kivelson, V. Z. Kresin, R. B. Laughlin, J. W. Loram, D.-H. Lee, P. A. Lee, I. Martin, D. K. Morr, S. H. Pan, D. Pines, D. J. Scalapino, Z.-X. Shen, N. Trivedi and S. A. Wolf for discussions and communications. This work was supported by the LDRD program of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, by the ONR, by the CULAR program of Los Alamos National Laboratory, by the Miller Research Foundation (J.C.D.), by IBM (K.M.L.), by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research, by a COE grant from the Ministry of Education, and by an International Joint Research Grant from NEDO (Japan).

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Correspondence to J. C. Davis.

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Lang, K., Madhavan, V., Hoffman, J. et al. Imaging the granular structure of high-Tc superconductivity in underdoped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ. Nature 415, 412–416 (2002).

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