Superconductor technologies have seen some dramatic advancements in recent years. Superconductivity is a topic of almost mythical regard in the various niche worlds of magnetism, electronics, and quantum mechanics. Electrical resistance has a tendency to drop to zero instantly with the complete ejection of magnetic fields when some materials are cooled to a critical temperature.
Currents are able to achieve zero electrical resistance and flow indefinitely around a superconducting coil without the need to apply voltage. This advancement in technology has the capacity to revolutionize computers, electric motors, power distribution, power storage, and much more. The European Council for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator and MRI machines already use superconducting magnets.These have also been included in the scope of research with advanced maglev trains.
The challenge faced to date is that the hottest superconductor developed to date is required to be cooled to as low as -140 degrees Celsius (140 below zero). This is currently achieved through the use of cryogenic cooling, which presents its own challenges as a feasible day-to-day option.
But hold on to your hats; US researchers have said that believe they have been working on advancements in superconductor technologies and have developed a means to operate a room-temperature superconductor!
Metamaterials are man-made materials which possess alien properties; meaning that they do not occur naturally in nature. A negative refraction is a common example of this. In contrast, every ‘natural’ material known to man has a positive refractive index.Metamaterials, on the other hand, are able to bend light in opposing directions. This technology, believe it or not, has led to the development of some rather curious advancements, such as invisibility cloaks.
Not just a thing of fiction and comic books, researchers have achieved the same result with superconductors at the Naval Research Laboratory, Towson University and the University of Maryland. Essentially, they have taken an empirical approach to the situation and tweaked a metamaterial style compound to raise its critical temperature in the lab.
This is more than a significant leap forward in creating what has been one of the most elusive pieces of highly prized tech in the world so far; a room temperature superconductor. Even though superconductors have been used in science and medicine for some time now, the challenge faced in needing to keep them at cryogenic temperatures makes for a very costly process.
Researchers practically still have quite a task on their hands, even though their empirical approach was able to see tin’s critical temperature raised to 0.15 Kelvin. This may seem a tad irrelevant to the uninitiated, but in the world of quantum mechanics, considering how little is known as to the why and how behind the existence of superconductivity, let alone high-temperature superconductivity, this is big news.
The thought is that the layers of the complex compounds behave similarly to an electron equivalent of optical waveguides where they steer electrons through materials with absolutely no resistance. It is this insight that brings the potential for a room temperature superconductor closer to the fore.
It is anticipated that with the mastering of superconductors, we will see the ushering of a new leap in civilization and advancement like nothing else before. If able to be mastered this could potentially save billions of dollars currently tied up in transmission losses.
With these leaps and bounds in superconductor technologies, the brave new world of global super grids, more efficient transportation systems, and possibly even cloaking devices will be just the beginning.