Scientists have discovered a breakthrough material that could pave the way for magnetically levitating trains and fusion power plants.
Last week, researchers announced that they’ve managed to create a superconducting material at both a temperature and pressure low enough for practical applications.
Scientists have been pursuing this breakthrough in superconductors for more than a century.
What makes superconductors so special is their ability to transmit electricity with any loss of energy, unlike the materials currently in use.
However, these materials only lost their resistance at freezing temperatures, limiting their practical use.
This new superconductor that works at room temperatures could revolutionise technology as we know it.
‘With this material, the dawn of ambient superconductivity and applied technologies has arrived,’ according to a team led by Ranga Dias, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and physics.
A team led by Ranga Dias had previously reported the creation of two similarly superconducting materials but one of the research published in Nature journal was retracted by the journal’s editors, amid questions over the scientists’ approach.
This time around, Professor Dias and his team say they took extra steps to avoid similar criticism.
The new material is described in a paper, ‘Evidence of near-ambient superconductivity in a N-doped lutetium hydride’, published in Nature.
Things that could be enabled by superconducting materials:
- 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
- Frictionless, levitating high-speed trains
- Affordable medical imaging and scanning techniques such as MRI and magnetocardiography
- Faster, more efficient electronic devices
- Tokamak machines that use magnetic fields to confine plasmas to achieve fusion as a source of unlimited power
Due to its bright red colour, the material has been nicknamed ‘reddmatter’, after a material that Spock created in the popular 2009 Star Trek movie.
Reddmatter was made by taking lutetium, a rare earth metal and mixing it with hydrogen and a small part of nitrogen. After leaving this to react for two or three days, at high temperatures, a rich blue compound was created according to the paper.
Pressing this compound at very high pressure, made it turn pink as it reached superconductivity, and then again became a rich red at its non-superconducting metallic state.
The material still needs to be heated to 20.5 degrees Celsius and compressed to about 145,000 psi to work.
‘A pathway to superconducting consumer electronics, energy transfer lines, transportation, and significant improvements of magnetic confinement for fusion are now a reality,’ said Professor Dias said in a statement.
‘We believe we are now at the modern superconducting era.’
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