Developing materials that are superconducting - without electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic field - at room temperature is the "holy grail" of condensed matter physics, say the researchers. To address this, they have created a material that seems to conduct electricity without any resistance at temperatures of up to about 15°C (58°F) - a new record for superconductivity, which is usually only achieved at extremely low temperatures.
To achieve this, the researchers combined hydrogen with carbon and sulfur to photochemically synthesize simple organic-derived carbonaceous sulfur hydride in a diamond anvil cell (pictured) - a research device used to examine miniscule amounts of materials under extraordinarily high pressure of about 39 million pounds per square inch (psi). The amount of superconducting material created by the diamond anvil cells is measured in picoliters — about the size of a single inkjet particle.
"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," says Ranga Dias, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and of physics and astronomy. "However, our discovery will break down these barriers and open the door to many potential applications.”
The researchers offer the following potential applications:
- Power grids that transmit electricity without the loss of up to 200 million megawatt hours (MWh) of the energy that now occurs due to resistance in the wires
- A new way to propel levitated trains and other forms of transportation
- Medical imaging and scanning techniques such as MRI and magnetocardiography
- Faster, more efficient electronics for digital logic and memory device technology
"We live in a semiconductor society," says Ashkan Salamat of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, a coauthor of the discovery, "and with this kind of technology, you can take society into a superconducting society where you’ll never need things like batteries again."
The next challenge, say the researchers, is finding ways to create the room temperature superconducting materials at lower pressures, so they will be economical to produce in greater volume. In comparison to the millions of pounds of pressure created in diamond anvil cells, the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level is about 15 psi.
The researchers have started a new company, Unearthly Materials, to find a path to room temperature superconductors that can be scalably produced at ambient pressure. For more, see "Room-temperature superconductivity in a carbonaceous sulfur hydride."
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