Magnetically mediated hole pairing in fermionic ladders of ultracold atoms


Conventional superconductivity emerges from pairing of charge carriers—electrons or holes—mediated by phonons1. In many unconventional superconductors, the pairing mechanism is conjectured to be mediated by magnetic correlations2, as captured by models of mobile charges in doped antiferromagnets3. However, a precise understanding of the underlying mechanism in real materials is still lacking and has been driving experimental and theoretical research for the past 40 years. Early theoretical studies predicted magnetic-mediated pairing of dopants in ladder systems4–8, in which idealized theoretical toy models explained how pairing can emerge despite repulsive interactions9. Here we experimentally observe this long-standing theoretical prediction, reporting hole pairing due to magnetic correlations in a quantum gas of ultracold atoms. By engineering doped antiferromagnetic ladders with mixed-dimensional couplings10, we suppress Pauli blocking of holes at short length scales. This results in a marked increase in binding energy and decrease in pair size, enabling us to observe pairs of holes predominantly occupying the same rung of the ladder. We find a hole–hole binding energy of the order of the superexchange energy and, upon increased doping, we observe spatial structures in the pair distribution, indicating repulsion between bound hole pairs. By engineering a configuration in which binding is strongly enhanced, we delineate a strategy to increase the critical temperature for superconductivity.