Future Technology

Scientists May Soon Harness the Power of High-Temperature Superconductors

Scientists May Soon Harness the Power of High-Temperature Superconductors
PHOTOGRAPH: Brookhaven Nat'l Lab | Revelations about superconductors, nanomaterials, and more formed Brookhaven’s top 10 accomplishments of 2016.

Scientists just inched closer to harnessing the power of superconductivity at room temperature. Materials that allow electric current to flow freely without resistance tend to be difficult to deploy at room temperature.

That is what a team of physicists from the United States Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York set out to unravel. Leading the research team was physicist Ivan Bozovic, who focused attention on a class of compounds called cuprates that contain layers of copper and oxygen atoms.

The research uncovered why cuprates can conduct electricity without resistance at temperatures above what a conventional superconductor requires. It was a step nearer to cracking the mystery of high-temperature superconductivity to unleash the capability that could transform the way energy is transmitted and utilized.

The Significance of Superconductors

Superconductors have found many real-life applications. Owing to their ability to generate large magnetic fields, they have become a vital component in medical equipment such as MRI scanners and levitating trains.

A superconductor can also be used to make energy-efficient power lines and devices that can store energy for millions of years. In other words, superconductors are the `Holy Grail’ in an era batting for energy-efficiency.

Challenging the Standard Theory

The standard theory of pertaining to a superconductor is that the temperature is controlled by the strength of the electron-pairing interaction. Bozovic and his team unraveled something different.

The researchers spent a decade preparing and analyzing more than 2,000 samples of a cuprate with varying amounts of strontium. They discovered that the number of electron pairs within a given area (per cubic centimeter, for instance), or the density of electron pairs, controls the superconducting transition temperature.

The standard theory was thereby challenged. It is not the forces between objects that matter, but the density of objects (electron pairs).

Superconducting Graphene

In other news, Cambridge University just tweeted, “Graphene’s sleeping superconductivity awakens.” It confirmed scientists’ long-held belief that the world’s thinnest material has the innate ability to superconduct.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge experimented and found a different type of superconductivity in graphene. They noted that given the variety of chemical molecules that can bind to its surface, the development of molecular electronics devices or product technologies with novel functionalities (based on the superconducting ability of the supermaterial) is an inevitability.


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