The recently discovered superconductor magnesium diboride, MgB2, has a transition temperature, Tc, approaching 40 K, placing it intermediate between the families of low- and high-temperature superconductors. In practical applications, superconductors are permeated by quantized vortices of magnetic flux. When a supercurrent flows, there is dissipation of energy unless these vortices are 'pinned' in some way, and so inhibited from moving under the influence of the Lorentz force. Such vortex motion ultimately determines the critical current density, Jc, which the superconductor can support. Vortex behaviour has proved to be more complicated in high-temperature superconductors than in low-temperature superconductors and, although this has stimulated extensive theoretical and experimental research, it has also impeded applications. Here we describe the vortex behaviour in MgB2, as reflected in Jc and in the vortex creep rate, S, the latter being a measure of how fast the 'persistent' supercurrents decay. Our results show that naturally occurring grain boundaries are highly transparent to supercurrents, a desirable property which contrasts with the behaviour of the high-temperature superconductors. On the other hand, we observe a steep, practically deleterious decline in Jc with increasing magnetic field, which is likely to reflect the high degree of crystalline perfection in our samples, and hence a low vortex pinning energy.
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