Physicists claim creation of a superconductor at near-ambient conditions: ScienceAlert

Few discoveries in science would revolutionize technology as much as a material that achieves superconductivity at room temperature under relatively mild pressure.

A team of physicists led by Ranga Dias, a physicist from the University of Rochester in New York now claims they may have cracked it and demonstrates one rare earth metal called lutetium combined with hydrogen and nitrogen can conduct electricity without resistance at 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) and about only 10,000 atmospheres of pressure, the team reports.

If confirmed by other researchers, this would be a major breakthrough in creating devices that do not waste energy on heat when producing a current.

Ideally, this could one day be used to create more efficient computers; faster, frictionless maglev trains; superior X-ray technology; and even more powerful nuclear fusion reactors.

“With this material, the beginning of ambient superconductivity and applied technologies has arrived,” the team said in a press release.

The researchers have dubbed the material ‘redd matter’ because the material changes dramatically from blue to pink as it becomes superconducting, and later to red as it becomes a non-superconducting metal.

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Before you get too excited, keep in mind that for now this is just a team of researchers sharing their own observations. The data has been published in the prestigious journal Nature, and will certainly attract plenty of debate. There is already plenty of healthy skepticism out there in the world of physics.

One of the biggest concerns is that the same group of researchers published claims of a similar superconductor breakthrough at room temperature back in 2020. This claim was later retracted by Nature due to reproducibility issues and questions about the data.

Superconductivity is such a big deal because normally when electricity flows through wires—say, from a power plant to your home, or through the internal circuitry of your smartphone—it’s met with friction. This resistance results in energy being lost as heat.

Back in 1911, researchers identified that there were some materials that lost this resistance under extreme cold and high pressure.

Under these extreme conditions, the quantum behavior of electrons inside superconductors is strengthened, allowing them to form what are known as Cooper pairs, allowing them to travel through the material with perfect efficiency.

Superconductivity is relatively easy to spot as it also results in a material emitting magnetic flux fields.

But getting materials to superconduct at temperatures and pressure levels that are efficient and practical has been incredibly challenging, and something physicists have spent decades working on.

The team from the University of Rochester claim that they have now been able to get close to this with reddmatter.

To create the material, researchers developed a gas mixture consisting of 99 percent hydrogen and 1 percent nitrogen. Left in a chamber of lutetium for a few days at 200 degrees Celsius, the components reacted to form a striking blue compound.

The team then placed the material inside a diamond anvil, which is used to put materials under extreme pressure.

As the pressure increased, the material underwent a “marked visual transformation”, going from blue to pink as it became superconductive – something the team confirmed by measuring both the magnetic fields around the material and its electrical conductivity.

(Dasenbrock-Gammon et al.Nature, 2023)

As the pressure continued to build, the material turned pink and passed through its superconducting phase and into a non-superconducting metallic state.

Reddmatter showed superconductivity at about 21 degrees Celsius (70 Fahreneheit) when compressed to a pressure of 145,000 pounds per square inch. square inch.

This is still about 10,000 times the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, so it would still require the right kind of structures and equipment to make practical use of it. It’s unlikely to give your phone superpowers at any point.

But that’s a significantly lower pressure than other room-temperature superconductor candidates, which require millions of times atmospheric pressure.

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One of the big problems now is that the scientists are not quite sure of the exact structure of reddmatter. This makes it difficult to understand how it becomes superconducting.

There are indications that it may be achieving superconductivity through a different mechanism than other superconductors, physicists ChangQing Jin and David Ceperley, who were not involved in the research, note in an accompanying Nature New article and views.

“(The) structural model … suggests that relatively little hydrogen is present in the authors’ samples compared to similar superconducting compounds,” they write.

“Further research will be needed to confirm that (the material) is a high-temperature superconductor, and then to understand whether this state is driven by vibrationally induced Cooper pairs – or by an unconventional mechanism that has yet to be revealed. ”

Dias admits there is still much to understand about how reddmatter achieves superconductivity. But he remains optimistic that reddmatter is an important first step, even if it doesn’t end up being the best superconductor out there.

“In daily life, we have many different metals that we use for different applications, so we also need different kinds of superconducting materials,” Dias said.

“A path to superconducting consumer electronics, power transmission lines, transportation and significant improvements in magnetic confinement for fusion is now a reality,” he added.

“We believe we are now at the modern superconducting era.”

The research is published in Nature.

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