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Departure from BCS response in photo-excited superconducting NbN films observed by terahertz spectroscopy

Ultrashort laser pulses can be used to induce transient exotic states of matter and cause phenomena of a vital interest such as room temperature superconductivity. We have focused on the photo-induced dynamics in niobium nitride (NbN) thin films [1] under strong excitation.

NbN is a prototypical BCS superconductor in the ground state. In the strong excitation regime the pump pulse immediately breaks all the Cooper pairs into separate quasiparticles. Subsequently, as the heat is dissipated out of the films towards the substrate, Cooper pairs start to recover. Using time-resolved terahertz spectroscopy, we characterized a series of NbN films with various thicknesses under such strong photoexcitation. Analysis of the photoconductivity spectra reveals that the recovery of Cooper pairs initially proceeds through the emergence of mutually isolated superconducting islands, which subsequently grow with increasing time towards a nearly percolated superconducting network. The superconductivity restoring is faster than the recovery of the superconducting gap to its equilibrium value. Most interestingly, experiments suggest that the profile of the density of states of strongly photoexcited films differs during the recovery process from the ones obtained for the thermal equilibrium at any temperature. This phenomenon is controlled by confinement effects within the films.

Fig. 1: Left panel: Photo-induced dynamics of quasiparticles (red) and Cooper pairs (blue). Right panel: Evolution of the superconducting gap 2Δ with time after photoexcitation. The arrows in indicate the gap widths in equilibrium.

[1] M. Šindler, C. Kadlec, P. Kužel, K. Ilin, M. Siegel, and H. Němec, Departure from BCS response in photoexcited superconducting NbN films observed by terahertz spectroscopy, Phys. Rev. B 97, 054507 (2018).