Statistical Physics

Reducing vortex density in superconductors using the ratchet effect

A serious obstacle impeding the application of low- and hightemperature superconductor devices is the presence of trapped magnetic flux1,2: flux lines or vortices can be induced by fields as small as the Earth’s magnetic field. Once present, vortices dissipate energy and generate internal noise, limiting the operation of numerous superconducting devices2,3. Methods used to overcome this difficulty include the pinning of vortices by the incorporation of impurities and defects4, the construction of flux ‘dams’5, slots and holes6, and magnetic shields2,3 which block the penetration of new flux lines in the bulk of the superconductor or reduce themagnetic field in the immediate vicinity of the superconducting device. The most desirable method would be to remove the vortices from the bulk of the superconductor, but there was hitherto no known phenomenon that could form the basis for such a process. Here we show that the application of an alternating current to a superconductor patterned with an asymmetric pinning potential can induce vortex motion whose direction is determined only by the asymmetry of the pattern. The mechanism responsible for this phenomenon is the so-called ‘ratchet effect’7–10, and its working principle applies to both low- and high-temperature superconductors. We demonstrate theoretically that, with an appropriate choice of pinning potential, the ratchet effect can be used to remove vortices from low-temperature superconductors in the parameter range required for various applications.


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