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Image Credit — Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo/Alamy


This mystery material creates a new record for superconductivity

Scientists have created a material which can conduct electricity without any resistance at temperatures of up to about 15 °C

Superconductors are best known for their ability to conduct electricity without resistance, but these exotic materials could only be produced artificially and function under specific conditions like certain temperature or pressure. Their demand is high with the reliance of futuristic quantum computing technology upon them.

Besides the futuristic technology, superconductors have various other technological applications like magnetic resonance imaging machines, mobile-phone towers & vastly efficient everyday electricity generation and transmission. Researchers are even experimenting with them in high-performance generators for wind turbines.

Imagine how much easier would it become if they can function under normal conditions (room temperature etc.) or maybe occur naturally. As it turns, a superconductor that works at room temperature or one that even occurs naturally is not as outlandish as it may sound. For the naturally occurring part, we might not find them here on Earth, but in space. The discovery of superconductivity in Graphene has also encouraged scientists to further their research in the area.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about how Scientists have discovered trace amounts of superconducting material in a giant meteorite that smashed into Australia over 100 years ago. Harvesting space rocks for superconductors might not be a practical idea for now so developing a superconductor that works at room temperature might be our best bet.

Building on their earlier research that started off with the discovery of a class of superconductors in 2015, Physicists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz (Germany) in collaboration with other academic researchers, have now created a mystery material that has set a new record for superconductivity by conducting electricity without any resistance at temperatures of up to about 15 °C.

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Adding a third element greatly broadens the combinations that can be included in future experiments searching for new superconductors, We have opened a whole new region of exploration”

~ Study Co-Author, Ashkan Salamat

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While this is a great invention, it has a huge limitation to it — it survives only under extremely high pressures which can only be seen closer to the center of the Earth. Needless, to say it would not have any practical applications. However, this might be a very important first step towards the development of room temperature functioning superconductors eventually.

There are superconductors that work at atmospheric pressure, but then have to be kept under extremely cold temperatures. For comparison purposes, the most sophisticated superconductor like copper oxide-based ceramic materials functions below a temperature of 133 kelvin (−140 °C). Therefore, with the current technology, it is an either-or scenario between temperature and pressure when it comes to a functioning superconductor.

The same team that reported the first high-pressure, high-temperature superconductor in 2015 has now come up with convincing evidence of high-temperature conductivity. And while the previous compound consisted of hydrogen and sulfur that had zero resistance up to −70 °C, the recent development marks the first time this kind of superconductivity has been seen in a compound of three elements — carbon, sulfur & hydrogen.

According to the team, the addition of the third element in the mix broadens the scope for the development of new superconductors. While materials at high pressure are already being used, adding further elements could further bring down the requirements for operational pressure in a superconductor.

The process of creation of the current superconductor involved a mixture of carbon, hydrogen and sulfur in a microscopic niche, which was carved between the tips of two diamonds. Chemical reaction was then triggered with laser light for the formation of crystals. As they lowered the temperature of the material, the resistance to the current passing through the material dropped to zero — becoming a superconductor.

Increasing the pressure from hereon in, the team found that the transition occurred at higher and higher temperatures. The best reading for the temperature came in at a temperature of 287.7 kelvin (about 15 °C) at 267 gigapascals — 2.6 million times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. Researchers also found that the resulting crystal expelled its magnetic field at the transition temperature, confirming superconductivity.

Although computer simulations of high-pressure mixtures of carbon, hydrogen and sulfur have been developed by researchers previously, this is the first time it has been done practically. Other researchers point out that much remains unknown about the mysterious material and they need to look at the raw data to figure out what’s going on.

If proven, these Superconductors that work at room temperature could have a big technological impact — for example in electronics that run faster without overheating.

Complete Research was published in the Journal Nature.

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