A New Superconductor Gives Hope

Oct 22, 2020 By Jocelyn L.
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Electricity has always fascinated mankind. From Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the lightning rod to Thomas Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, people have always been trying to discover how to best utilize this phenomenon of nature. 

Stephen Gray was the first scientist to research electrical conductivity, or how well electricity can move through a specific material, in the 18th century. Since then, this topic has been investigated by scientists with many of them trying to discover the most efficient and effective conductors. 

Recently, scientists have achieved a new breakthrough in their research of conductors and superconductors: a superconductor that works at room temperature has finally been discovered. 

Let’s take a closer look at what superconductors are and the new discovery.

What Are Superconductors?

To understand what superconductors are, let’s first step back and take a look at conductors.

Conductors are materials that allow electricity to flow freely through them. Some common conductors include metals such as silver and copper.

However, most conductors experience a phenomenon called conductor resistance -- this is the resistance that electricity experiences when flowing through a conductor. This resistance slows down the flow of electricity, which leads to a loss of energy in the form of heat. Even the best conductors encounter at least a little bit of resistance and consequently, lose a bit of energy.

However, there are a few rare conductors that experience zero conductor resistance. They are called superconductors because electricity experiences no resistance when it flows through the conductor. So far, this phenomenon has only been observed in materials by cooling them to extremely low temperatures. The technology has been used in magnetically levitated trains and MRI machines. 

The New Discovery

Recently, a new superconductor has been discovered that works at room temperature, specifically 15℃ by a team of scientists at the University of Rochester in New York State.

To create the superconductor, the researchers shot a laser through a mixture of sulfur, hydrogen, and carbon to form a crystal. They then subjected this crystal to extremely high pressure (nearly 2.6 million times atmospheric pressure!) by placing it between the tips of two diamonds. Under these conditions, the electrical resistance of the crystal dropped to zero!

To confirm that this was indeed a superconductor, another property of superconductors was put to the test: a magnetic field’s ability to inhibit a superconductor’s behavior. When this superconductor was placed in a magnetic field, it required a lower temperature to achieve zero resistance, confirming that it is a true superconductor.

The discovery of a room-temperature superconductor is an amazing scientific breakthrough and could open up doors to improved electrical grids, high-speed computers, and faster maglev trains. However, because of the extremely high pressures that this superconductor requires, it still cannot be used practically. That’s why scientists are now focusing on discovering a superconductor that can operate not only at room temperature but also under standard atmospheric pressure.

It is quite possible that in the near future, our society would truly become an electrifying “superconducting society!”

Sources: BBC, ScienceNews, Nature, energyeducation.ca, electricaltechnology.org