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Critical behavior at a dynamic vortex insulator-to-metal transition

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Science  11 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6253, pp. 1202-1205
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260507

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Vortices in a superconducting egg crate

Near equilibrium phase transitions, physical systems that bear no resemblance to one another can behave in a very similar way. For example, thermodynamic functions follow the same scaling behavior in a magnetic transition as in the seemingly unrelated gas-liquid transition. Does such universality exist in nonequilibrium phase transitions? Poccia et al. fabricated a square array of superconducting islands on a metallic surface. They applied a magnetic field, which caused vortices to form in between the islands, and induced a transition from a state in which vortices were stuck to their positions to one where they were able to move. They observed the same scaling behavior that applies to some equilibrium transitions.

Science, this issue p. 1202

Abstract

An array of superconducting islands placed on a normal metal film offers a tunable realization of nanopatterned superconductivity. This system enables investigation of the nature of competing vortex states and phase transitions between them. A square array creates the eggcrate potential in which magnetic field–induced vortices are frozen into a vortex insulator. We observed a vortex insulator–vortex metal transition driven by the applied electric current and determined critical exponents that coincided with those for thermodynamic liquid-gas transition. Our findings offer a comprehensive description of dynamic critical behavior and establish a deep connection between equilibrium and nonequilibrium phase transitions.

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