Scanning tunnelling microscopy imaging of symmetry-breaking structural distortion in the bismuth-based cuprate superconductors

Ilija Zeljkovic, Elizabeth J. Main, Tess L. Williams, M. C. Boyer, Kamalesh Chatterjee, W. D. Wise, Yi Yin, Martin Zech, Adam Pivonka, Takeshi Kondo, T. Takeuchi, Hiroshi Ikuta, Jinsheng Wen, Zhijun Xu, G. D. Gu, E. W. Hudson, Jennifer E. Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


A complicating factor in unravelling the theory of high-temperature (high-Tc) superconductivity is the presence of a 'pseudogap' in the density of states, the origin of which has been debated since its discovery. Some believe the pseudogap is a broken symmetry state distinct from superconductivity, whereas others believe it arises from short-range correlations without symmetry breaking. A number of broken symmetries have been imaged and identified with the pseudogap state, but it remains crucial to disentangle any electronic symmetry breaking from the pre-existing structural symmetry of the crystal. We use scanning tunnelling microscopy to observe an orthorhombic structural distortion across the cuprate superconducting Bi 2Sr2Can-1CunO2n+4+x (BSCCO) family tree, which breaks two-dimensional inversion symmetry in the surface BiO layer. Although this inversion-symmetry-breaking structure can impact electronic measurements, we show from its insensitivity to temperature, magnetic field and doping, that it cannot be the long-sought pseudogap state. To detect this picometre-scale variation in lattice structure, we have implemented a new algorithm that will serve as a powerful tool in the search for broken symmetry electronic states in cuprates, as well as in other materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-589
Number of pages5
JournalNature Materials
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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