Disorder has different profound effects on superconducting thin films. For a large variety of materials, increasing disorder reduces electronic screening which enhances electron-electron repulsion. These fermionic effects lead to a mechanism described by Finkelstein: when disorder combined to electron-electron interactions increases, there is a global decrease of the superconducting energy gap Δ and of the critical temperature Tc, the ratio Δ/kBTc remaining roughly constant. In addition, in most films, an emergent granularity develops with increasing disorder and results in the formation of inhomogeneous superconducting puddles. These gap inhomogeneities are usually accompanied by the development of bosonic features: a pseudogap develops above the critical temperature Tc and the energy gap Δ starts decoupling from Tc. Thus the mechanism(s) driving the appearance of these gap inhomogeneities could result from a complicated interplay between fermionic and bosonic effects. By studying the local electronic properties of an NbN film with scanning tunneling spectroscopy (STS), we show that the inhomogeneous spatial distribution of Δ is locally strongly correlated to a large depletion in the local density of states (LDOS) around the Fermi level, associated to the Altshuler-Aronov effect induced by strong electronic interactions. By modeling quantitatively the measured LDOS suppression, we show that the latter can be interpreted as local variations of the film resistivity. This local change in resistivity leads to a local variation of Δ through a local Finkelstein mechanism. Our analysis furnishes a purely fermionic scenario explaining quantitatively the emergent superconducting inhomogeneities, while the precise origin of the latter remained unclear up to now.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
- Condensed Matter Physics