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Superconductivity’s Hot New Trend

LiveScience.com

What can superconductors do for you? That’s the question scientists studying a new, high temperature material for superconductivity are trying to answer. If the new material is any indication of things to come, then the world may soon see practical-use superconductors improving the fields of medicine, technology, transportation, and energy.

A group of scientists led by Chang-Beom Eom, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has developed a unique multilayer superconductor that can transport a huge amount of electrical current.

Their innovative material stands out for its ability to operate at high temperatures. Most superconductive materials — which often contain conductive elements such as niobium, lead, or mercury — only function under extremely cold conditions, making their application in the real world impractical.

High temperature superconductors, however, find practical applications in existing medical technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) used in diagnostic tests like magnetoencephalographies (MEGs). Maglev trains using electrodynamic suspension also rely on high temperature superconductors to operate.

The superconductive material that Eom and his team created is composed of pnictides, or compounds made with any of the five elements of the nitrogen family, and the oxide strontium titanate. It’s particularly unique for its improved ability to carry a strong, uninterrupted current over a large area.

While the man-made structure isn’t the first of its kind, it does bring researchers one step closer to creating a superconductor that can operate at room temperature, and it’s important for future developments in electronic and high-field devices, Eom said.

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