I felt like learning more about superconductivity last week, so I spent some time reading from various sources. Not being an expert in the field, I cobbled together what I could find, and I thought I would list some items that might be of use to others who would like to learn about this very interesting field.
- What is superfluidity? A useful one-page introduction to superfluidity, which is a phenomenon related to superconductivity.
- A one-page introduction from CERN.
- There is a nice concept-map and an overview of many aspects of superconductivity at Hyperphysics.
- A teacher’s guide to superconductivity for high-school students. A good introduction for teachers, but is also useful for students. Some of the material requires an understanding of quantum mechanics, but much of it is accessible for those who haven’t yet learned quantum mechanics. A nice aspect of these notes is that they include directions for baking superconductors, and also a set of homework problems.
- The Wikipedia page on superconductivity, which is more advanced.
- The Harvest of a Century, by Siegmund Brandt, Sections 18, 58, 62, and 78. A fantastic book, Brandt describes the key discoveries in twentieth-century physics in a hundred episodes. He beautifully combines readable explanations of the basic physics with informative, sometimes gripping, historical context, that is never found in standard textbooks. For example, in Section 18 on Onnes’s discovery of superconductivity, one gets a clear impression of the decades of labour involved, and why he embarked on them, and the surrounding events that made his work possible. Highly recommended, both for this topic, and in general.
- Superconductivity: A Very Short Introduction, by Stephen Blundell. An excellent introduction, and very inexpensive. Much of the book can be successfully read without any background in quantum mechanics. Blundell does a tremendous job of communicating the excitement of scientific discoveries, and paints well-rounded portraits of the dramatis personae, including their conflicts and cooperations. Pages 101–105, which describe the circumstances of the publication of a breakthrough in high-temperature superconductivity by Paul Chu’s research group, is a highlight. (And this episode is an indictment of the potential for corruption in the current peer-review system, at least as it relates to journal publication.) Highly recommended as a great overview.
More advanced material, as an introduction to the specialist literature (quantum mechanics needed as background):
- Introduction to Solid State Physics, by Charles Kittel. Chapter 12 deals with superconductivity. I took an excellent course in solid-state physics from Robin Fletcher when I was an undergraduate at Queen’s, and we used an earlier edition of this textbook (which I no longer have). I haven’t read the famous book of Ashcroft and Mermin, although I have read many other of Mermin’s writings, and he’s an excellent writer and teacher (Ashcroft has a reputation as an excellent teacher, too).
- The Feynman Lectures on Physics, by Richard Feynman, Volume III, Chapter 21. (See also here for more Feynman material.) Feynman was a master expositor.