‘Red matter’ superconductor could transform electronics – if it works

A diamond anvil

A diamond anvil was used to create the material

Steve Jacobsen/Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College

Superconductivity at room temperature and room pressure has been a central goal of materials science for more than a century, and it may finally have been achieved. If this new superconducting material holds up, it could revolutionize the way our world is powered – but the findings are headed for serious scientific scrutiny first.

When a material is superconductor, electricity flows through it with zero resistance, which means that none of the energy involved is lost as heat. But all superconductors made so far have required extraordinarily high pressures, and most have required equally high temperatures.

Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester in New York and his colleagues claim to have made a material from hydrogen, nitrogen and lutetium that becomes superconducting at a temperature of only 21°C (69°F) and a pressure of 1 gigapascal. That’s nearly 10,000 times the atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface, but still far lower than any previous pressure. superconducting material. “Let’s say you were riding a horse in the 1940s when you see a Ferrari driving past you – that’s the level of difference between previous experiences and this one,” says Dias.

To make the material, they placed a combination of the three elements into a diamond anvil – a piece of machinery that compresses samples at extraordinarily high pressures between two diamonds – and pressed. As the material was compressed, its color changed from blue to red, leading researchers to dub it “red matter.”

The researchers then performed a series of tests examining the electrical resistance and heat capacity of red matter, as well as its interaction with an applied magnetic field. All tests indicated the material was superconductive, they say.

But not all researchers in the field are convinced. “Maybe they discovered something absolutely groundbreaking and earth-shattering in this work, something that would win a Nobel Prize, but I have some reservations,” says james hamlin at the University of Florida.

Some of his reservations, and those of other superconductivity researchers, are due to the controversy surrounding a 2020 article by Dias and his teamwhich claimed room temperature superconductivity and was later retracted by the scientific journal Nature. At the time, some questioned whether the data presented in the article was accurate and raised questions about how the published data was derived from the raw measurements.

“Until the authors provide understandable answers to these questions, there is no reason to believe that [the data] that they publish in this article reflect the physical properties of real physical samples,” states jorge hirsch at the University of California at San Diego.

Part of the reason skepticism is so hard to quell is that we don’t know enough about red matter to build a theoretical understanding of it. mechanism behind its possible superconductivity. “Much remains to be done to understand the exact structure of this material, which is very crucial to understanding how this material is superconducting,” says Dias. “We hope that if we can manufacture it in larger quantities, we will have a better understanding of the structure of the material.”

If theorists can figure out exactly how and why this material becomes a superconductor, it will go a long way to convincing researchers that it is in fact a superconductor, and it could also put red matter on the path to industrial production. . “The structures found in this work are probably very different [from previously confirmed superconducting materials],” said Eva Zurek at the University at Buffalo in New York. “The mechanism behind the superconductivity of this compound might be different, but I can’t be sure because I don’t have a structure to work out.”

If independent groups are able to verify the superconductivity of red matter and understand its structure, it could be one of the most impactful scientific discoveries of all time. A room-temperature, room-pressure superconductor could make the power grid much more efficient and environmentally friendly, supercharging magnetic levitation And much more. “I think there are many technologies out there that haven’t even been imagined yet that could use room-temperature and room-pressure superconductivity,” Zurek says.

But researchers are not yet dreaming of a superconducting society. “There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny, obviously,” Hamlin says. “I think the difference here compared to the previous result is that it’s at such low pressures that a lot of other bands can watch this.” Only a few laboratories in the world have expensive and complicated diamond anvils capable of reaching the high pressures required by previous superconductivity experiments, but pressure cells of up to 1 gigapascal are relatively common.

This is perhaps the most important factor that differentiates this work from the retracted article of 2020. “Their previous work has still not been reproduced by an independent group, but this one should be reproduced extremely quickly”, declared Tim Strobel at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC. “We’ll do it right away.” If all goes well, this could mark the start of a energy revolution.


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