Researchers at the University of Rochester have produced a material that is superconductive at room temperature, the holy grail of materials development that holds the potential to revolutionize virtually every aspect of modern technology—all without the need for bulky refrigeration equipment required to cool the material low enough to produce its superconductive properties.
“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,” explains lead researcher Ranga Dias, an assistant professor of physics and mechanical engineering with Rochester University’s Materials Science and High Energy Density Physics programs. “However, our discovery will break down these barriers and open the door to many potential applications.”
Although only a few picoliters (an amount about the size of an inkjet toner particle) of the material have been produced, this newly-minted compound displays no electrical resistance and generates its own magnetic field, all without having to be chilled to temperatures cold enough to coax these superconductive properties out of the material. A stable substance with innate superconductive properties has been sought for over a century, but until now all attempts at producing superconductors have required them to be refrigerated; the previous record-holder was lanthanum superhydride, a material that needed to be chilled to −23°C (−10°F) while under tremendous pressure to become superconductive.
This new material was produced by photochemically, synthesizing carbon, hydrogen and sulphur into a compound called carbonaceous sulfur hydride. The compound was then subjected to an intense pressure of 39 million psi in a diamond anvil cell (in order to compress its hydrogen into a metallic state) at which point it began to exhibit superconductive properties, albeit at a comfortable 58 degrees Fahrenheit (15°C).
Although this new material currently needs to be under high pressure to perform, its ability to be superconductive at such a high temperature is a critical step in advancing our civilization’s semiconductor-based electronic and magnetic technologies past their current limitations: power grids could be built to eliminate costly and wasteful line loss, an effect that currently results in the loss of around 5 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. before it even gets to the customer. Other examples include levitated trains and other vehicles that would no longer require power-hungry electromagnets to reduce weight or hover; medical imaging and scanning techniques such as MRI and magnetocardiography would be revolutionized; and computer technology with no electrical resistance could be made substantially faster than our current machines, all the while using a fraction of the electricity.
“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,” explains study co-author Ashkan Salamat of the University of Nevada Las Vegas.