Electron pairing without superconductivity
Strontium titanate (SrTiO3) is the first and best known superconducting semiconductor. It exhibits an extremely low carrier density threshold for superconductivity, and possesses a phase diagram similar to that of high-temperature superconductors—two factors that suggest an unconventional pairing mechanism. Despite sustained interest for 50 years, direct experimental insight into the nature of electron pairing in SrTiO3 has remained elusive. Here we perform transport experiments with nanowire-based single-electron transistors at the interface between SrTiO3 and a thin layer of lanthanum aluminate, LaAlO3. Electrostatic gating reveals a series of two-electron conductance resonances—paired electron states—that bifurcate above a critical pairing field Bp of about 1–4 tesla, an order of magnitude larger than the superconducting critical magnetic field. Electron pairing is stable at temperatures as high as 900 millikelvin, well above the superconducting transition temperature (about 300 millikelvin). These experiments demonstrate the existence of a robust electronic phase in which electrons pair without forming a superconducting state.