Effect of the density of states at the Fermi level on defect free energies and superconductivity: A case study of Nb3Sn
Although often ignored in first-principles studies of material behavior, electronic free energy can have a profound effect in systems with a high-temperature threshold for kinetics and a high Fermi-level density of states (DOS). Nb3Sn and many other members of the technologically important A15 class of superconductors meet these criteria. This is no coincidence: both electronic free energy and superconducting transition temperature Tc are closely linked to the electronic density of states at the Fermi level. Antisite defects are known to have an adverse effect on Tc in these materials because they disrupt the high Fermi-level density of states. We observe that this also locally reduces electronic free energy, giving rise to large temperature-dependent terms in antisite defect formation and interaction free energies. This work explores the effect of electronic free energy on antisite defect behavior in the case of Nb3Sn. Using ab initio techniques, we perform a comprehensive study of antisite defects in Nb3Sn, and find that their effect on the Fermi-level DOS plays a key role determining their thermodynamic behavior, their interactions, and their effect on superconductivity. Based on our findings, we calculate the A15 region of the Nb-Sn phase diagram and show that the phase boundaries depend critically the electronic free energy of antisite defects. In particular, we show that extended defects such as grain boundaries alter the local phase diagram by suppressing electronic free-energy effects, explaining experimental measurements of grain boundary antisite defect segregation. Finally, we quantify the effect of antisite defects on superconductivity with the first ab initio study of Tc in Nb3Sn as a function of composition, focusing on tin-rich compositions observed in segregation regions around grain boundaries. As tin-rich compositions are not observed in bulk, their properties cannot be directly measured experimentally; our calculations therefore enable quantitative Ginzburg-Landau simulations of grain boundary superconductivity in Nb3Sn. We discuss the implications of these results for developing new growth processes to improve the properties of Nb3Sn thin films. © 2021 American Physical Society.