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The origin of the anomalous superconducting properties of MgB2


Magnesium diboride1 differs from ordinary metallic superconductors in several important ways, including the failure of conventional models2 to predict accurately its unusually high transition temperature, the effects of isotope substitution on the critical transition temperature, and its anomalous specific heat3,4,5. A detailed examination of the energy associated with the formation of charge-carrying pairs, referred to as the ‘superconducting energy gap’, should clarify why MgB2 is different. Some early experimental studies have indicated that MgB2 has multiple gaps3,4,5,6,7,8,9, but past theoretical studies10,11,12,13,14,15,16 have not explained from first principles the origin of these gaps and their effects. Here we report an ab initio calculation of the superconducting gaps in MgB2 and their effects on measurable quantities. An important feature is that the electronic states dominated by orbitals in the boron plane couple strongly to specific phonon modes, making pair formation favourable. This explains the high transition temperature, the anomalous structure in the specific heat, and the existence of multiple gaps in this material. Our analysis suggests comparable or higher transition temperatures may result in layered materials based on B, C and N with partially filled planar orbitals.

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Figure 1: Crystal structure of MgB2, electronic states at the Fermi level, and a vibrational mode of boron atoms.
Figure 2: The superconducting energy gap of MgB2.
Figure 3: Calculated temperature dependence of the superconducting gaps and the quasiparticle density of states.
Figure 4: The specific heat of MgB2.

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This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the US Department of Energy. Computational resources have been provided by the National Science Foundation at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and by the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. H. S. acknowledges financial support from the Berkeley Scholar Program funded by the Tang Family Foundation.

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Correspondence to Steven G. Louie.

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Choi, H., Roundy, D., Sun, H. et al. The origin of the anomalous superconducting properties of MgB2. Nature 418, 758–760 (2002).

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