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Quantum structural fluxion in superconducting lanthanum polyhydride

The discovery of 250-kelvin superconducting lanthanum polyhydride under high pressure marked a significant advance toward the realization of a room‐temperature superconductor. X-ray diffraction (XRD) studies reveal a nonstoichiometric LaH9.6 or LaH10±δ polyhydride responsible for the superconductivity, which in the literature is commonly treated as LaH10 without accounting for stoichiometric defects. Here, we discover significant nuclear quantum effects (NQE) in this polyhydride, and demonstrate that a minor amount of stoichiometric defects will cause quantum proton diffusion in the otherwise rigid lanthanum lattice in the ground state. The diffusion coefficient reaches ~10−7 cm2/s in LaH9.63 at 150 gigapascals and 240 kelvin, approaching the upper bound value of interstitial hydrides at comparable temperatures. A puzzling phenomenon observed in previous experiments, the positive pressure dependence of the superconducting critical temperature Tc below 150 gigapascals, is explained by a modulation of the electronic structure due to a premature distortion of the hydrogen lattice in this quantum fluxional structure upon decompression, and resulting changes of the electron-phonon coupling. This finding suggests the coexistence of the quantum proton fluxion and hydrogen-induced superconductivity in this lanthanum polyhydride, and leads to an understanding of the structural nature and superconductivity of nonstoichiomectric hydrogen-rich materials.

Read the article in Nature Communications