Physics

The Higher Andreev State

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Science  02 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6145, pp. 437
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6145.437-b

In superconductors, materials capable of perfect conduction of electricity, the associated supercurrent is carried by pairs of electrons known as Cooper pairs. If a superconductor is placed in contact with a nonsuperconducting material, a single electron impinging on the interface from the nonsuperconducting side is reflected as a hole and forms a Cooper pair on the superconductor side—a process known as Andreev reflection. For a nonsuperconducting material sandwiched between two superconductors (as is the case in devices such as tunnel Josephson junctions), the reflections on the two interfaces will cause the formation of standing waves—Andreev bound states (ABSs)—which are responsible for carrying the supercurrent across the weak link. The ABSs have a discrete spectrum, but usually only the lowest energy state is accessed in experiments. Bretheau et al. directly detected an excited ABS in a less common form of a Josephson junction, where the weak link is an atomic contact. Their apparatus consisted of an atomic contact junction in parallel with a tunnel junction, and with another tunnel junction acting as a source and detector of microwaves. By measuring the current and voltage dependence of the latter, and by varying the phase difference across the atomic contact, they were able to precisely map out the energy needed to excite the ground ABS. It is expected that the existence of two ABSs can be used as a basis for a quantum bit or as a stage for exploring fundamental mesoscopic phenomena.

Nature 499, 312 (2013).

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