Since the discovery of high temperature superconductivity in layered copper-oxide compounds in the latter part of 1986, an enormous amount of research has been carried out on these remarkable materials. Prior to 1989, the prevailing view was that the charge carriers responsible for superconductivity in these materials were holes that move through conducting CuO2 planes. The CuO2 planes are the basic building blocks of the crystal structures of all the presently known oxides with superconducting critical temperatures Tc greater than ~30 K. Recently, new superconducting materials have been discovered in Japan and the United States in which the charge carriers involved in the superconductivity appear to be electrons, rather than holes, that reside within the conducting CuO2 planes. These findings could have important implications regarding viable theories of high temperature superconductivity as well as strategies for finding new high temperature superconductors.
The new electron-doped materials have the chemical formula Ln2-xMxCuO4-y and exhibit superconductivity with superconducting critical temperatures Tc as high as ~25 K for x ≍ 0.15 and y ≍ 0.02. Superconductivity has been discovered for M = Ce and Ln = Pr, Nd, Sm, and Eu, and for M = Th and Ln = Pr, Nd, and Sm. A related compound with the identical crystal structure, Nd2CuO4-x-y Fx, has also been found to display superconductivity withTc ≍ 25 K. Recently, it has been observed that superconductivity with Tc ≍ 25 K can even be induced in nonsuperconducting Nd2-xCexCuO4-y compounds by substituting Ga or In for Cu. Thus, it appears that the CuO2 planes can be doped with electrons, rendering the Ln2CuO4-y parent compounds metallic and superconducting, by substituting electron donor elements at sites within, as well as outside, the CuO2 planes; i.e., by substituting (1) Ce4+ or Th4+ ions for Ln3+ ions; (2) F1- ions for O2- ions; and (3) Ga3+ or In3+ ions for Cu2+ ions.