A team of New York-based physicists has achieved one of modern science's most sought after phenomena - a material that conducts electricity with virtually perfect efficiency in what is known as superconductivity - with new material, and at higher temperatures.
Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday, October 14, reporting a compound made up of hydrogen, carbon, and sulfur. The new material exhibits conductivity at a temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 15 degrees Celsius. It surpasses the previous record for high temperature superconductivity experiments by more than 50 degrees.
Achieving Superconductivity for the First Time
"This is the first time we can really claim that room-temperature superconductivity has been found," said Ion Errea, a condensed matter theorist from the University of the Basque Country from Spain not part of the research team, in an article from Quanta Magazine.
The team, led by Ranga P. Dias from the Mechanical Engineering department of the University of Rochester, was able to achieve the scientific milestone is only achievable under very specific conditions - the substance has to be crushed between diamonds to extreme pressures to almost three-fourths of those in the Earth's core. It led the researchers to recognize that while it has achieved superconductivity, it is nowhere near the dreamed applications of this technology like 100 percent efficiency across power lines or frictionless high-speed transport.
Researchers were able to attain superconductivity by squeezing the carbon, hydrogen, and sulfur compound between the tips of two diamonds. Under this high-pressure setup, the compound was exposed to a laser to induce reactions. With a temperature of almost 15 degrees Celsius and pressure close to the Earth's core, the material showed no more electrical resistance - which means that it can conduct energy at a hundred percent efficiency.
However, Dias said in a statement: "I didn't believe it the first time," prompting the team to study additional samples - this time investigating its magnetic properties. Superconductivity is also inhibited by the presence of magnetic fields. Researchers, after placing the novel material in a magnetic field, had to lower the temperature to attain superconductivity. After applying varying magnetic fields, they observed that the material repelled magnetic fields during its superconducting phase.
The Search for Superconductive Materials
Superconductive materials that operate on normal temperature and everyday conditions has been a subject of interest among researchers, especially materials scientists. The phenomenon was first discovered on April 8, 1911, by the Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes: he was studying the resistance of solid Mercury (Hg) at extremely low temperatures using the then-novel refrigerant liquid helium.
In Onnes' experiments, he observed the loss of resistance at a temperature of 4.2 Kelvins, or -268.95 degrees Celsius. Additionally, he discovered a superfluid transition of helium by accident. Since then, researchers have been steadily finding materials and conditions that are close to superconductivity without the need for extremely low temperatures.
A previous study in 2015, led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, showed how compressing hydrogen and sulfur exhibited superconductivity at relatively higher temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius. A few years later, researchers then published a study using a lanthanum and hydrogen compound exhibiting the same behavior at even higher temperatures - one study at -23 degrees Celsius while the other at -13 degrees Celsius.
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