Persistent current is a perpetual electrical current, not requiring an external power source.
Persistent currents in superconductors
|This section requires expansion. (October 2013)|
In superconductors, charge can flow without any resistance. It is possible to make pieces of superconductor with a large built-in persistent current, either by creating the superconducting state (cooling the material) while charge is flowing through it, or by changing the magnetic field around the superconductor after creating the superconducting state. This principle is used in superconducting electromagnets to generate sustained high magnetic fields that only require a small amount of power to maintain.
Persistent currents in resistive conductors
Surprisingly, it is also possible to have tiny persistent currents inside resistive metals that are placed in a magnetic field, even in metals that are nominally "non-magnetic". The current is the result of a quantum mechanical effect that influences how electrons travel through metals, and arises from the same kind of motion that allows the electrons inside an atom to orbit the nucleus forever. The magnitude of the current becomes appreciable when the size of the metallic system is reduced to the scale of the electron quantum phase coherence length and the thermal length.
This kind of persistent current was first predicted to be experimentally observable in micrometer-scale rings in 1983 by Markus Büttiker, Yoseph Imry, and Rolf Landauer. Because the effect requires the phase coherence of electrons around the entire ring, the current can not be observed when the ring is interrupted by an ammeter and thus the current must by measured indirectly through its magnetization. Experimental evidence of the observation of persistent currents were first reported in 1990 by a research group at Bell Laboratories using a superconducting resonator to study an array of copper rings. Subsequent measurements using superconducting resonators and extremely sensitive magnetometers known as superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) produced inconsistent results.
In 2009, physicists at Stanford University using a scanning SQUID and at Yale University using microelectromechanical cantilevers reported measurements of persistent currents in nanoscale gold and aluminum rings respectively that both showed a strong agreement with the simple theory for non-interacting electrons.
|“||"These are ordinary, non-superconducting metal rings, which we typically think of as resistors, yet these currents will flow forever, even in the absence of an applied voltage."||”|
— Jack Harris, Associate Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Yale.
The 2009 measurements both reported greater sensitivity to persistent currents than previous measurements and made several other improvements to persistent current detection. The scanning SQUID's ability to change the position of the SQUID detector relative to the ring sample allowed for a number of rings to be measured on one sample chip and better extraction of the current signal from background noise. The cantilever detector's mechanical detection technique made it possible to measure the rings in a clean electromagnetic environment over a large range of magnetic field and also to measure a number of rings on one sample chip.
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- Büttiker, M.; Imry, Y.; Landauer, R. (1983). "Josephson behavior in small normal one-dimensional rings". Phys. Lett. A 96 (7): 365. Bibcode:1983PhLA...96..365B. doi:10.1016/0375-9601(83)90011-7.
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- "Physicists Measure Elusive 'Persistent Current' That Flows Forever". ScienceDaily. October 12, 2009.
- Bluhm, H.; Koshnick, N.; Bert, J.; Huber, M.; Moler, K. (2009). "Persistent Currents in Normal Metal Rings". Phys. Rev. Lett. 102 (13): 136802. arXiv:0810.4384. Bibcode:2009PhRvL.102m6802B. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.102.136802. PMID 19392385.
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