Modular assembly of high temperature superconductors from dimensionally reduced iron-based chalcogenide blocks

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Chemistry


High temperature superconductivity above 100 K in three-atoms-thick layer of FeSe on a SrTiO3 substrate is an ultimate example of how dimensionality can play a transformative role in electronic and magnetic structure of a solid. Whether it is a unique effect of the two-dimensionality or the high temperature superconductivity emerges due to the strain or doping from a substrate this discovery offers a viable building block for a modulated growth of high temperature superconductors - monolayer of FeSe. The assembly of functional materials from discrete building blocks gives competitive advantage for synthesis of solids with specific properties and structure. In this case reactions often can be carried out at ambient conditions when the structure, functionality and chemical integrity of each building block is preserved so they can act as set of modules to be re-connected retrospectively into a global functional network. This programme of work is designed to isolate monolayered FeSe species and to explore chemistry assisted pathways for integrating them as building blocks in conjunction with other 2D systems. In this capacity the functionality of the FeSe layer could be modulated on demand in an open-type synthetic platform simply by changing the layers sequence. This will be achieved by employing a unique ability of the layered 3D chalcogenides to be rendered to 2D atomically thin blocks and then be re-assembled into artificial architectures. We foresee that this research will shed light on the mechanism of superconductivity in single unit cell FeSe that is of fundamental scientific interest and, taking to account that there some hints that superconductivity in FeSe of is conventional in nature, may become a key to room temperature superconductivity. From more practical perspective the proposed research could help create a large-scale solution-based platform for manufacturing of high T superconducting films at ambient temperature and to address an important challenge associated with wider adaptation of current state-of-the-art high T superconductors: how to process brittle ceramics into high quality films on a conducting substrate at ambient temperature. Coupling FeSe layers with other inorganic monolayers of specific properties (e.g. ferromagnetic, semiconductor, insulator) can trigger interesting quantum proximity effects at interfaces. This creates opportunities for adaptation in quantum communication, quantum computing and photonics.

Planned Impact

JeS Impact summary
Superconductivity is associated with the ability of a material to show zero electrical resistance below a characteristic critical temperature (Tc). The lack of electrical resistance permits to sustain electrical current indefinitely and generate exceptionally high electromagnetic fields. The latter marvellous property has been exploited technologically for making strong electromagnets with applications in medical care (magnetic resonance imaging), energy generation (engines for wind turbines) and pharmaceutical (nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and magnetic separation).
What has been often overlooked even by established academics and experienced presenters (e.g. in BBC documentaries) is that superconductivity can have transformative effect on future Quantum Technologies. For example, astrophysics has benefited strongly from the phenomena and new IR detectors stemmed from this fundamental research could become the basis of an agenda in electronic (sensors) industries. Therefore, it is important to shape the public awareness of the superconducting technology and this requires search for exciting quantum phenomena at the interfaces between superconductors and other functional materials. However, the ability to create such interface often requires the substantial investment into complex deposition apparatus and many researchers are afraid to pursue what they rightly see as a risky innovation. The proposed research aims to address this challenge by trying to identify chemistry assisted pathways to create novel superconductors. This will be achieved by employing a unique ability of the layered chalcogenides to be rendered to atomically thin blocks and then be re-assembled into artificial architectures with improved superconducting properties. The flexibility of this synthetic approach affords an open platform type of material where the function could be modulated on demand simply by changing the layers sequence. The impact of the project is therefore far-reaching, with our results of great interest to chemists, physicists and engineers working on graphene-related materials, nanostructured materials and energy storage materials. We will ensure our results reach the most appropriate audiences by engaging with our community through conference attendance and continuing to publish our results in high impact journals. The unique mix of synthetic capabilities, state-of-the-art characterisation techniques and possible device testing are at the cross section of important research area of the EPSRC physical science portfolio. This will have significant impact on the career development of the PDRA hired as a result of this funding. We believe that superconductors, if understood properly, hold a great potential in quantum technology and would offer the surest path to profitable economic and job growth. Our Pathways to Impact statement also highlights our proposed engagement with UoG research office in order to ensure that any developed method and materials of outstanding performance, which would arise as a result of this work, will be appropriately explored for market commercialisation. The closest proximity to the quantum technology hub QuantIC (University of Glasgow) would enable the progress of any commercially important outcome of this research in quantum imaging straight to the marketplace through Partnership Resource Grants.
Description A simple and effective reaction route for formation of thin films of transition metal chalcogenides from solution has been found. The access to the films was achieved through intercalation chemistry of sodium into chalcogenide nanoblocks. In particular, the intercalation of Na into FeSe enabled an easy exfoliation process of FeSe to few layered nanosheets. The nanosheets were combined with MoTe2 materials to produce ordered heterostructures. The superconducting properties of the produced products were tested to reveal superconducting state below 45 K.
Exploitation Route The main outcome is a an ability to produce films and heterostructures of transition metal chalcogenides using exfoliated species generated from intercalation compounds. The adopted approached may find its application in electronics and in particular in design of interfaces between 2D materials which might lead to new quantum devices. In addition,we identified that MoTe2 is an effective material for electrocatalytic water splitting which could lead to its applications in production of hydrogen from water. In addition, we identified the new method for preparing the products into water dispersable inks for improved catalysts on the surface of the glassy carbon.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment

Description The part of the findings were included into my public talk on Superconductivity "Where is my flying car?" (audience over 50 people) In addition, the PDRA employed on this project provided the key training in electrochemistry to a PhD student within my group. This resulted in the development of highly efficient electrocatalysts leading to several papers in development of green hydrogen from water electrolysis (the grant is acknowledged in the relevant papers)
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy
Impact Types Societal

Description EPSRC DTA
Amount £75,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 10/2020
Title Use of electrochemical intercalation process 
Description We identified a new electrolyte which allowed us to prepare sodium intercalated FeSe. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We noticed that the change in electrolyte can significantly improve the intercalation process for chalcogenide material. Although important for superconductors this discovery which should be published shortly should be very useful for research in sopdium iron batteries. 
Title The rapid electrochemical activation of MoTe2 for the hydrogen evolution reaction 
Description The data set includes raw experimental files of electrochemical data, XRD and Raman spectroscopy as well as optimised coordinates for structures from computational studies. A comprehensive description is provided within description file. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Description Electrochemical intercalation of alkali-metals into FeSe 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Department School of Chemistry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Using FeSe solids we developed an efficient route for intercalation of Na into FeSe using battery style setup. We also carried out the work on telluride systems which did not turn out to be superconducting but demonstrated very impressive performance as a novel electrocatalyst.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborative work with group of Dr. Harry Miras and Dr. Mark Symes allowed us to use the equipment available in his group for intercalation of Na into FeSe and electrochemical characterisation of MoTe2. The results of the collaboration on MoTe2 system has been published, the work on Na intercalation into FeSe is currently under preparation for publication.
Impact The paper has been published in Energy Technology
Start Year 2016
Description Heterostructures between atomically thin MoTe2 and FeSe layers 
Organisation Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA)
Department Wigner Research Centre for Physics
Country Hungary 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution According to WP2 and WP3 of the proposed research we were able to prepare interfaces between FeSe and MoTe2 films. The narrow band gap in this semi-metallic phases is challenging to measure with standard techniques but IR spectroscopy is an excellent tool to achieve it.
Collaborator Contribution The collaboration with prof. Katalin Kamaras allowed us to look directly into the size of gap in a superconducting MoTe2 and FeSe films and their interfaces
Impact Interdisciplinary collaboration Physics (Budapest) and Chemistry (Glasgow)
Start Year 2018
Description Raman spectroscopy of transition metal chalcogenides 
Organisation University of Vienna
Department Faculty of Physics
Country Austria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution There is a substantial interest from Prof. Pichler to host my PhD student in his group. A successful application for travel via ETP £3000 would allow James Fraser to carry work on transition metal chalcogenides in Vienna
Collaborator Contribution Provision of equipment and training
Impact Funding for 1 month placement by my current PhD student James Fraser at the University of Vienna funded by ETP Scotland to carry an interdisciplinary study
Start Year 2018
Description Talk to general audience in Pub organised by Glasgow Skeptics 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 40 members of general public attended my talk on superconductivity titled "Where is my flying car". The talk was organised by Glasgow Skeptics which aims to promote science to general public in a series of lectures in informal pub environment. The talk was about 1.5 hour in length and contain the recent work by my group with focus on 2D superconductors. There was a very interesting question and answers session. I have received an invitation from Café Scientifique to repeat the talk. Many participants mentioned to me that they have not realized how exciting the superconductivity was and that applications are ubiquitous in health care and pharmaceuticals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018