Evidence of macroscopic quantum tunneling detected in nanowires

Physics professors Alexey Bezryadin, left, and Paul Goldbart flank graduate student Mitrabhanu Sahu, who performed the bulk of the measurements.CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A team of researchers at the University of Illinois has demonstrated that, counter to classical Newtonian mechanics, an entire collection of superconducting electrons in an ultrathin superconducting wire is able to "tunnel" as a pack from a state with a higher electrical current to one with a notably lower current, providing more evidence of the phenomenon of macroscopic quantum tunneling.

Physics professors Alexey Bezryadin and Paul Goldbart led the team, with graduate student Mitrabhanu Sahu performing the bulk of the measurements. Their research was published on the Web site of the journal Nature Physics on May 17.

Quantum tunneling is the capability of a particle to inhabit regions of space that would normally be off-limits according to classical mechanics. This research observes a process called a quantum phase slip, whereby packs of roughly 100,000 electrons tunnel together from higher electrical current states to lower ones. The energy locked in the motion of the electrons as they phase slip is dissipated as heat, causing the nanowires to switch from a superconducting state to a more highly resistive one.

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