In 1911, physicists discovered superconductivity but at temperatures near absolute zero (−273.15°C), which isn’t very practical. Since then, physicists have been on the hunt for superconductors that can be maintained at temperatures closer to nature – not intensely low artificially created temperatures. Keeping materials at such extreme temperatures is costly and complicated; hence, not possible for broader implementation.
Finally, over a century later, a team of researchers from New York’s University of Rochester has achieved that milestone. They found a superconductor that operates at room temperature. The compound – consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and sulfur – conducts electricity without resistance at up to 15°C (59°F), but only under high pressure.
This blows the previous record of -23°C (-9.4°F) out of the water and brings the prospect of useful superconductivity a giant stride forward. Now that they’ve managed the temperature factor, all they have to do is figure out how to resolve the pressure issue.
Ranga Dias, the lead physicist of the study, said in a press statement:
Because of the limits of low temperature, materials with such extraordinary properties have not quite transformed the world in the way that many might have imagined. However, our discovery will break down these barriers and open the door to many potential applications.
Superconductivity could very well revolutionize our world, reshaping electronics and transportation. The potential applications of a room-temperature superconductor that could be used at atmospheric pressure include better data transfer, lossless power grids, and maglev transportation. It could also improve quantum computers and MRI machines.
How They Did It
The team formed the room temperature superconductor by squeezing the compound between two diamonds’ tips, then hitting it with laser light to activate chemical reactions. They had to compress at a pressure about 2.6 million times that of Earth’s atmosphere. When the temperature reached about 15°C, the electrical resistance vanished.
Then, the team investigated its magnetic properties (magnetic fields clash with and inhibit superconductivity). Two things happened to prove the material was, in fact, a superconductor: it expelled the magnetic field from its interior, and lower temperatures were needed to make it superconducting when it was in the magnetic field.
While it’s an outstanding achievement, practical applications are still a very long way off. The team has only managed to create specks of the material – between 25 and 35 microns – and the pressure is still far too high. Nevertheless, they’ve crossed off temperature as a limiting factor, so they’re nearly halfway there!
Somayazulu, of Argonne National Laboratory, who was not involved with the research, said:
Still, the temperature is not a limit anymore. Instead, physicists now have a new aim: to create a room-temperature superconductor that works without putting on the squeeze. That’s the next big step we have to do.
Next, the team plans to tune the compound’s chemical composition to try and reduce the high pressure needed. The researchers believe that if they can get the mix right, a room-temperature and ambient-pressure superconductor will finally be within our grasp. Dias even said that he envisions humanity could become a “superconducting society.”
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