Materials

Scientists create the world's first room temperature superconductor

Scientists create the world's ...
Superconducting materials typically require extremely cool temperatures to operate, which is demonstrated in this photo. But a new discovery could change that
Superconducting materials typically require extremely cool temperatures to operate, which is demonstrated in this photo. But a new discovery could change that
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Superconducting materials typically require extremely cool temperatures to operate, which is demonstrated in this photo. But a new discovery could change that
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Superconducting materials typically require extremely cool temperatures to operate, which is demonstrated in this photo. But a new discovery could change that

Since its discovery more than a century ago, superconductivity has come to play a powerful role in many modern day technologies, such as maglev trains and MRI scans, but its utility has been limited by the need for extremely cool operating temperatures. Scientists are now claiming a big breakthrough in this area, creating what they say is the first material capable of superconductivity at room temperature.

The work was led by Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester, and aims to overcome one of the major roadblocks in expanding the uses of superconductive materials. These materials exhibit no electrical resistance and expel a magnetic field, but because they typically only function at temperatures below -140 °C (-220 °F), they require expensive equipment to maintain.

“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," says Dias. "However, our discovery will break down these barriers and open the door to many potential applications."

Dias describes room temperature superconductivity as the “holy grail” of condensed matter physics, and in research published this week his team has taken a significant step towards that goal. Researchers have spent years experimenting with different materials in pursuit of room temperature superconductors, such as copper oxides and iron-based chemicals, but it was with widely abundant hydrogen that Dias and his team found success.

“To have a high temperature superconductor, you want stronger bonds and light elements,” he says. “Those are the two very basic criteria. Hydrogen is the lightest material, and the hydrogen bond is one of the strongest.”

One downside of this approach is that pure hydrogen can only be converted to a metallic state at extremely high pressures, so the team instead turned to alternative materials that are rich in hydrogen, but maintain the desired superconductive properties and can be metalized at far lower pressures.

The winning formula involves a mix of hydrogen, carbon and sulfur, which was used to synthesize organic-derived carbonaceous sulfur hydride in high-pressure research device called a diamond anvil cell. This carbonaceous sulfur hydride demonstrated superconductivity at around 58 °F (14.5 °C), and at pressures of around 39 million psi.

“We live in a semiconductor society, and with this kind of technology, you can take society into a superconducting society where you’ll never need things like batteries again,” says Ashkan Salamat of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, a co-author of the research.

Some of the applications for this type of material include more efficient power grids that transmit electricity without great losses caused by resistance in today’s wires, more powerful maglev trains or other futuristic transport solutions, and improved medical imaging technologies.

Before any of that happens, however, the team will work to address one problem with the current approach, which is the monumental pressure required to create the material inside the diamond anvil cell. Coming up with a way to produce the superconducting material at far lower pressures will be key to producing it in useful quantities at a reasonable cost, the researchers say. They also note that fine-tuning the makeup of ingredients could allow for superconductivity at even higher temperatures.

You can hear Dias explain the discovery in the video below, while the research was published in the journal Nature.

The World's First Room Temperature Superconductor

Source: University of Rochester

9 comments
aki009
It seems to me that a material that's superconductive only at 59 million psi is an interesting achievement, but probably represents a dead end.
yawood
They have just replaced one seemingly insurmountable problem with another. We need superconductivity at both ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure, not one or the other!
VincentWolf
Seems like just more proof of a lost cause for millions of years.
Excalibur2811
is 38 million psi achievable or are they just sharing what calculations have shown MAY be possible?
Worzel
Seems just like the search for the Holy Grail, futile. (At present)
michael_dowling
They aren't clear on whether it remains superconducting at room temps WITHOUT being under pressure. Even the researchers would not be promoting this if it only works under high pressure,which would be totally impracticable if it is required.Metallic hydrogen,from what I have read, IS stable at normal atmospheric pressures after it is formed at extreme pressures.
fasteddie2020
Surely the researchers said that this material remains superconducting when pressure is removed. I think the article has failed to carry the discussion to that point.
WB
yeah removing one insane requirement and replacing it with 59million psi... I wouldn't call that progress. Maybe the next one will claim the holy grail..but requires the gravity of a black hole.. to put this in context. A propane tank has 145psi. The bottom of the deepest spot on the ocean has 16000psi. Champer pressure firing a pistol is about 20k psi... Detonation pressure of pure CL-20 the most powerful high explosive is about 8M psi.. these guys need about 7x that - sustained, not just in one swoop. The energy needed to create that pressure over long distance, by far invalidates the savings with this superconducter. Btw the pressure they need is the pressure that's found inside of the earth inner core lol good luck getting there
stevendkaplan
I have checked and according to Scientific America this stuff only functions at high pressure, it can’t function at sea level pressure. So basically in its current form this stuff is just a scientific curiosity.