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Why is it interesting?

A superconductor is simply a material in which electromagnetic gauge invariance is spontaneously broken.

Weinberg QFT Vol 1


First I will explain how superconductivity arises, and then turn to the profound, and as it transpired inspirational, importance of hidden symmetry in this case.

An electron moving through a lattice of positively charged ions experiences an electrical attraction, which causes a slight distortion of the lattice.As a bell continues to ring after having been struck, so the lattice’s distortion may persist for a short while after the electron has passed. A second electron coming through finds a distorted lattice, and interacts with it. If the timing, speed, and spinning motions are right, the two interactions with the lattice cause the electrons to attract one another magnetically.They act cooperatively, like a single particle where the two spins, or individual magnetism, of the constituent electrons have canceled out.

American Leon Cooper was the first to realize this possibility, in 1956,and since then these twins have been called “Cooper Pairs.”8 Their con stituent electrons are fermions—particles with half-integer spins, whichin quantum mechanics act like cuckoos, where two in the same nest are forbidden. In a Cooper pair, the duo collectively has integer spin and actslike a boson.9 Bosons, by contrast, are like penguins, where large numbers cooperate as a colony. Bosons can collect together into the lowest-possible energy state—an effect known as Bose-Einstein condensation, after the scientists whose work led to this phenomenon being understood. It is manifested in weird phenomena such as the “superfluid” ability of liquid helium to flow through narrow openings without friction and of super-conductivity. In superconductivity, the Cooper Pairs act like bosons,which in concert make a “Bose condensate.” An analogy of the difference between conventional conductors, which have resistance to the flow of current and become hot, and superconduc tors, which offer no measurable resistance at all, is dancing in a wild night-club in contrast to what happens when a professional troupe performs a routine onstage.10 On a packed floor at a nightclub, hundreds of individual dancers are vigorously jiving, waving their arms, rocking from side to side,and bumping into one another. This state is like that of electrons in a metal. To model the electric field, imagine the dance floor is tilted to one side, as on a cruise ship, which is listing slightly. The force of gravity will push the dancers gently toward one side of the room. As they drift across,they continue dancing, the whole ensemble behaving quite chaotically.The more collisions you have, the more energy you waste.

This is how electrons behave in a warm metal when an electric fieldpushes them in one direction. The electrons move in the direction dic-tated by the field, meanwhile bumping into one another, losing energy asheat. An overall movement of dancers—in this case electric charge—en-sues; electric current flows, but there is a lot of resistance along the way.

The Cooper Pairs in a superconductor are like professional ballroomdancers who are performing as a troupe, rather than as individual pairs.However, in this particular routine, your partner is not dancing with you cheek to cheek, but instead is far across the room, their motion mirroring your own precisely. A large number of dancers may be between you and your partner, each of them in turn being paired with another, somewhere in the crowd. The entire company performs as a coherent whole, a sens eof order existing throughout the ballroom.

Any disturbance that would hinder a single dancer in the first example would have to affect the full ensemble of performers in the second case.The collective power of the organized troupe enables it to continue unimpeded; their motion—the electric current for the real case of electrons—loses no energy.

All that is required for this to happen is the existence of the organized pairs. The dynamics of the choreography will determine precisely how they go about it, but the concept itself depends only on the ability of the electrons to pair off. Today we know that this powerful pair bonding is an example of spontaneous symmetry breaking; the symmetry that has be-come hidden in the real case of electrons in a superconductor is gauge in-variance of electromagnetism. This work would lead to two Nobel Prizes.

Nambu appears to have been the first to recognize that gauge invariance does hold true in the BCS Theory but has become hidden. He had identified a profound truth: When the temperature gets cold enough, the fun damental patterns of electromagnetism—gauge invariance —may be hidden, as a result of which strange things happen, such as the appearance of the boson like Cooper Pairs. …. In a superconductor, the ground state contains Cooper Pairs. It costs energy to break up any pair, liberating individual electrons. Once liberated,the electrons have higher energy, the difference from their original bond ing in pairs being called the “energy gap.” The freed electrons receive this energy, which via E=mc2 makes them appear to have gained mass. This gave Nambu an idea: If the universe itself was like a superconductor, could the masses of particles arise by some analogous mechanism? from "The Infinity Puzzle" by Frank Close


In this section things should be explained by analogy and with pictures and, if necessary, some formulas.


The motto in this section is: the higher the level of abstraction, the better.
What about symmetry breaking in a superconductor?

In fact, a gauge symmetry cannot spontaneously break down as a matter of principle, since it is not a physical symmetry of the system to begin with, but merely an invariance of description [8]. The only way to violate a gauge symmetry is by choosing a gauge, which again has only an effect on our description, but not on the physical system it- self.

We may conclude at this point that in a superfluid or superconductor, a symmetry is spontaneously violated, but this symmetry is not gauge invariance, but global U (1) phase rotation symmetry. This is already evident from the fact that the discussion above made no reference to whether the order parameter field W^yðxÞ is charged or not, and equally well applies to neutral superfluids, where W^yðxÞ carries no charge.

There is, however, a very important difference between these two cases. If the or- der parameter field is neutral, the excitation spectrum of the system contains a gap- less (or in the language of particle physics ‘‘massless’’) mode, a so-called Goldstone boson [1], which physically corresponds to very slow spatial variations in the direction (as for the case of broken rotational invariance) or phase (as for the case of a superfluid) of the classical order parameter field. If the order parameter field is charged, however, it couples to the electromagnetic gauge field, and the Goldstone boson is absent due to the Higgs mechanism. The physical principle underlying this mechanism was discovered by Anderson [13] in the context of superconductivity: as the electromagnetic interaction is long-ranged, the mode corresponding to very slow spatial variations in the phase / of the superconducting order parameter, which implies currents by the equation of motion and hence also variations in the density of the superfluid by the continuity equation, acquires a gap (or ‘‘mass’’) given by the plasma frequency.

Is electromagnetic gauge invariance spontaneously violated in superconductors? Martin Greiter

Common Question 2




Contributing authors:

Jakob Schwichtenberg
advanced_notions/superconductivity.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/04 07:01 (external edit)