Fluctuation Effects in One-Dimensional Superconducting Nanowires

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This thesis focuses on the fluctuation in the switching current $I_s$ of superconducting Al nanowires. We discovered that the maximum current which nanowires can support is limited by a single phase slip at low temperature.

Al superconducting nanowires less than 10 nm wide were fabricated based on a MBE grown InP ridge template in an edge-on geometry. The method utilizes a special substrate featuring a high standing 8nm-wide InP ridge. A thin layer of Al was evaporated on the substrate and Al on the ridge formed nanowires.

The fluctuation effects starts to dominate in the nanowire due to reduced energy barrier. One of such effects is the phase slip. The phase slip is a topological event, during which the superconducting phase between two superconducting electrodes changes by $2\pi$. The phase slip broadens the normal-superconducting transition. Part of the nanowire becomes normal during the phase slip and forms a normal core. The normal core generates heat and causes the premature switching in superconducting nanowires.

The nanowire becomes superconducting below the critical temperature $T_c$. The superconducting-normal transition was studied in the thesis. The transition of nanowires with superconducting leads qualitatively fits the thermally activated phase slip (TAPS) theory. On the other hand, the transition of the nanowires with normal leads showed a resistive tail due to the inverse-proximity effect.

The nanowire switches from the superconducting state to the normal state as the current is increased. Ideally, the maximum current is set by a pair-breaking mechanism, by which the kinetic energy of quasi-particles exceeds the bonding energy of Cooper pairs. This is called the critical current, $I_c$. In practice, the measured maximum current, called the switching current $I_s$, cannot reach $I_c$ because of the phase slip.

$I_s$ shows stochasticity due to the phase slip. For the nanowires with superconducting leads, the average $I_s$ approximately follows but falls below $I_c$. The fluctuation in $I_s$ shows non-monotonic behavior, in contrast to other studies. The fluctuation first increases and then decreases rapidly with increasing temperature. The fluctuation behavior is consistent with a scenario where the switch is triggered by a single phase slip at low temperature while by multiple phase slips at higher temperature. Thermal activation of phase slips appears dominant at most temperatures. However, in the thinnest nanowire, the saturation of the fluctuation at low temperature indicates that the phase slips by macroscopic quantum tunneling.

The superconducting nanowires with normal leads were also studied. One of the distinctive properties of our nanowire (the critical field of 1D nanowire is 10 times larger than that of a 2D superconducting film) allowed us to study the same nanowire with different leads (superconducting or normal). Both the average $I_s$ and the fluctuation in $I_s$ differed qualitatively depending on whether the leads were superconducting or normal. The temperature dependence of the average $I_s$ followed the $I_c$ of the Josephson junction instead of the phenomenological pair-breaking $I_c$. The difference was found to depend on both the temperature (close to $T_c$ or 0) and the length (shorter or longer than the charge imbalance length). Our study also showed that nonlinear current-voltage (IV) curves were observed due to the inverse-proximity effect.






Li, Peng (2010). Fluctuation Effects in One-Dimensional Superconducting Nanowires. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/3093.


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