Physica C: Superconductivity and its Applications

Visualization of columnar defects in superconductors

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Columnar defects in single crystals of superconductors were investigated using scanning probe microscopy. We show that the observable topography strongly depends on the crystal structure as well as on the type of the interaction with the probe. In scanning tunneling microscopy studies, the low conductance of the amorphous tracks leads to tip-surface contact. Owing to this contact, the defects are imaged as hollows having a depth that primarily reflects the tunneling distance. For the high transition temperature materials, atomic force microscopy images the real defect structure as hillocks growing out of the surface. This outgrowth of amorphous material is time dependent and produced by the relaxation of irradiation-induced stress. The dynamic outgrowth of the columnar defects is discussed in terms of a so-called "tooth paste" model.