Despite recent advances in understanding high-transition-temperature (high-Tc) superconductors, there is no consensus on the origin of the superconducting 'glue': that is, the mediator that binds electrons into superconducting pairs. The main contenders are lattice vibrations (phonons) and spin-excitations, with the additional possibility of pairing without mediators. In conventional superconductors, phonon-mediated pairing was unequivocally established by data from tunnelling experiments. Proponents of phonons as the high-Tc glue were therefore encouraged by the recent scanning tunnelling microscopy experiments on hole-doped Bi2Sr 2CaCu2O8-δ (BSCCO) that reveal an oxygen lattice vibrational mode whose energy is anticorrelated with the superconducting gap energy scale. Here we report high-resolution scanning tunnelling microscopy measurements of the electron-doped high-Tc superconductor Pr 0.88LaCe0.12CuO4 (PLCCO) (Tc = 24 K) that reveal a bosonic excitation (mode) at energies of 10.5 ± 2.5 meV. This energy is consistent with both spin-excitations in PLCCO measured by inelastic neutron scattering (resonance mode) and a low-energy acoustic phonon mode, but differs substantially from the oxygen vibrational mode identified in BSCCO. Our analysis of the variation of the local mode energy and intensity with the local gap energy scale indicates an electronic origin of the mode consistent with spin-excitations rather than phonons.
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