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Superconductors go fractal

Oxygen atoms arrange themselves in a self-similar pattern

By
12:50pm, August 11, 2010

A new experiment using powerful X-ray beams has found a surprising pattern lurking in a superconductor, a material that conducts electricity without energy-sapping resistance. In a particular kind of superconductor, oxygen atoms are physically arranged as a fractal, showing the same pattern at small and large scales. 

Fractals have been spotted in places as diverse as broccoli, England’s coastline and financial markets. Here, the fractal pattern boosts the efficiency of the superconductor, scientists report August 12 in Nature.

The new study is “experimental physics at its best,” says physicist Jan Zaanen of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who wrote an accompanying article in the journal. “A new machine comes on line, and it produces a surprise nobody expects.”

Though the researchers don’t yet know how the pattern forms or why it enhances superconductivity, they hope the discovery will help in the que

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