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Cooper, Leon Neil

pairs theory electrons superconductivity

(1930– ) US physicist: contributed to BCS theory of superconductivity.

Leon Cooper was educated at Columbia University, obtaining his doctorate in 1954. He collaborated with at Illinois on the BCS theory of superconductivity.

Soon after his doctoral work in quantum field theory, Cooper made a theoretical prediction of the existence of bound pairs of electrons at low temperature. Although two electrons repel each other, they may behave differently in a solid with a sea of electrons with an embedded lattice of positive ions. One electron distorts the lattice, pulling it in about it, and the other electron is attracted to the locally higher concentration of positive ions. This effect can be imagined from the similarity to two cannonballs on a mattress rolling together into the same depression. Thus at low temperature, when thermal vibrations do not disturb this process, bound pairs (called Cooper pairs) of electrons form. The BCS theory then accounts for superconductivity as being due to the fact that these pairs can move through a lattice with zero scattering by impurities because the pair is much larger than any impurity atom. For this work Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer shared the 1972 Nobel Prize for physics.

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