Proximity effect (superconductivity)

Proximity effect (superconductivity)

Proximity effect is a term used in the field of superconductivity to describe phenomena that occur when a superconductor (S) is placed in contact with a "normal" (N) non-superconductor. Typically the critical temperature T_{c} of the superconductor is suppressed and signs of weak superconductivity are observed in the normal material.


The superconducting proximity effect (SPE) is caused by diffusion of Cooper pairs into the normal material, and by the diffusion of electronic excitations in the superconductor. As a contact effect, the SPE is closely related to thermoelectric phenomena like the Peltier effect or the formation of pn junctions in semiconductors. The proximity effect enhancement of T_c is largest when the normal material is a metal with a large diffusivity rather than an insulator (I). Proximity-effect suppression of T_c in a superconductor is largest when the normal material is ferromagnetic, as the presence of the internal magnetic field weakens superconductivity (Cooper pairs breaking).


The study of S/N, S/I and S/S' (S' is lower superconductor) bilayers and multilayers has been a particularly active area of SPE research. The behavior of the compound structure in the direction parallel to the interface differs from that perpendicular to the interface. In type II superconductors exposed to a magnetic field parallel to the interface, vortex defects will preferentially nucleate in the N or I layers and a discontinuity in behavior is observed when an increasing field forces them into the S layers. In type I superconductors, flux will similarly first penetrate N layers. Similar qualitative changes in behavior do not occur when a magnetic field is applied perpendicular to the S/I or S/N interface. In S/N and S/I multilayers at low temperatures, the long penetration depths and coherence lengths of the Cooper pairs will allow the S layers to maintain a mutual, three-dimensional quantum state. As temperature is increased, communication between the S layers is destroyed resulting in a crossover to two-dimensional behavior. The anisotropic behavior of S/N, S/I and S/S' bilayers and multilayers has served as a basis for understanding the far more complex critical field phenomena observed in the highly anisotropic cuprate high-temperature superconductors.

ee also

*Andreev reflection


*"Superconductivity of Metals and Alloys" by P.G. de Gennes, ISBN 0-201-40842-2, a textbook which devotes significant space to the superconducting proximity effect.

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