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An unusual isotope effect in a high-transition-temperature superconductor


In conventional superconductors, the electron pairing that allows superconductivity is caused by exchange of virtual phonons, which are quanta of lattice vibration. For high-transition-temperature (high-Tc) superconductors, it is far from clear that phonons are involved in the pairing at all. For example, the negligible change in Tc of optimally doped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ (Bi2212; ref. 1) upon oxygen isotope substitution (16O → 18O leads to Tc decreasing from 92 to 91 K) has often been taken to mean that phonons play an insignificant role in this material. Here we provide a detailed comparison of the electron dynamics of Bi2212 samples containing different oxygen isotopes, using angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy. Our data show definite and strong isotope effects. Surprisingly, the effects mainly appear in broad high-energy humps, commonly referred to as ‘incoherent peaks’. As a function of temperature and electron momentum, the magnitude of the isotope effect closely correlates with the superconducting gap—that is, the pair binding energy. We suggest that these results can be explained in a dynamic spin-Peierls picture2, where the singlet pairing of electrons and the electron–lattice coupling mutually enhance each other.

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Figure 1: Isotope-induced changes of the nodal dispersion.
Figure 2: Isotope-induced changes of the off-nodal dispersions in the superconducting state.
Figure 3: Decrease of the isotope-induced changes in the normal state.


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We are grateful to K. A. Müller, A. Bianconi, N. L. Saini, D. Pines, A. Bill, V. Z. Kresin, S. A. Kivelson, A. J. Leggett, J. Clarke, J. Orenstein, M. L. Cohen, L. Pietronero, E. Cappelluti, J. C. Davis, J. W. Allen, A. S. Alexandrov, J. C. Phillips, A. H. Castro Neto, C. Castellani, A. Bussman Holder, D. Mihailovic, G. Deutscher, C. Bernhard, S. Uchida and T. Schneider for discussions. We thank Z. X. Shen, Z. Hussain, D. S. Chemla and N. V. Smith for support in the initial stage of the project. The work at UC Berkeley and LBNL was supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Science, Division of Materials Science.

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Correspondence to A. Lanzara.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

Description of isotope substitution process used. (DOC 22 kb)

Supplementary Figure

Fermi surface maps for the two isotope samples compared. (DOC 79 kb)

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Gweon, GH., Sasagawa, T., Zhou, S. et al. An unusual isotope effect in a high-transition-temperature superconductor. Nature 430, 187–190 (2004).

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