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To Crack or Not to Crack: Strain in High Temperature Superconductors

Abstract

Round wire Bi 2212 is emerging as a viable successor of Nb3Sn in High Energy Physics and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, to generate magnetic fields that surpass the intrinsic limitations of Nb3Sn. Rather bold claims are made on achievable magnetic fields in applications using Bi 2212, due to the materials' estimated critical magnetic field of 100 T or higher. High transport currents in high magnetic fields, however, lead to large stress on, and resulting large strain in the superconductor. The effect of strain on the critical properties of Bi-2212 is far from understood, and strain is, as with Nb3Sn, often treated as a secondary parameter in the design of superconducting magnets. Reversibility of the strain induced change of the critical surface of Nb3Sn, points to an electronic origin of the observed strain dependence. Record breaking high field magnets are enabled by virtue of such reversible behavior. Strain effects on the critical surface of Bi-2212, in contrast, are mainly irreversible and suggest a non-electronic origin of the observed strain dependence, which appears to be dominated by the formation of cracks in the superconductor volumes. A review is presented of available results on the effects of strain on the critical surface of Bi-2212, Bi-2223 and YBCO. It is shown how a generic behavior emerges for the (axial) strain dependence of the critical current density, and how the irreversible reduction of the critical current density is dominated by strain induced crack formation in the superconductor. From this generic model it becomes clear that magnets using high temperature superconductors will be strain limited far before the intrinsic magnetic field limitations will be approached, or possibly even before the magnetic field limitation of Nb3Sn can be surpassed. On a positive note, in a very promising recent result from NIST on the axial strain dependence of the critical current density in extremely well aligned YBCO, reversible behavior was observed. This result emphasizes the need for further conductor development, specifically for round wire Bi-2212, to generate a wire with a similar reversible dependence on strain. Availability of such a wire will enable the construction of magnets that can indeed generate fields that far surpass the limitations of Nb3Sn superconductors.

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