A pivotal step toward understanding unconventional superconductors would be to decipher how superconductivity emerges from the unusual normal state. In the cuprates, traces of superconducting pairing appear above the macroscopic transition temperature Tc, yet extensive investigation has led to disparate conclusions. The main difficulty has been to separate superconducting contributions from complex normal-state behaviour. Here we avoid this problem by measuring nonlinear conductivity, an observable that is zero in the normal state. We uncover for several representative cuprates that the nonlinear conductivity vanishes exponentially above Tc, both with temperature and magnetic field, and exhibits temperature-scaling characterized by a universal scale Ξ0. Attempts to model the response with standard Ginzburg-Landau theory are systematically unsuccessful. Instead, our findings are captured by a simple percolation model that also explains other properties of the cuprates. We thus resolve a long-standing conundrum by showing that the superconducting precursor in the cuprates is strongly affected by intrinsic inhomogeneity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank A.V. Chubukov and J.M. Tranquada for comments on the manuscript. D.P., M.V., M.S.G., and M.P. acknowledge funding by the Croatian Science Foundation under grant no. IP-11-2013-2729. The work at the University of Minnesota was funded by the Department of Energy through the University of Minnesota Center for Quantum Materials under DE-SC-0016371. The work at the TU Wien was supported by FWF project P27980-N36 and the European Research Council (ERC Consolidator Grant no. 725521). We acknowledge M.K. Chan for contributing to Hg1201 sample preparation and characterization.
© 2018, The Author(s).