Superconductors are materials capable of transmitting electricity without resistance, allowing current to flow without any loss of energy. Unfortunately, all previously developed superconductors must first be cooled to extremely low temperatures to attain the necessary properties, making them largely useless for practical purposes.
Recently, however – following more than a century of waiting – a group of researchers have finally attained the world’s first superconductor that requires no cooling and can work under room-temperature (or, more specifically – below 15° Celsius).
The discovery was made by squeezing carbon, hydrogen and sulphur between two diamonds and exposing them to laser light, thereby inducing a host of chemical reactions. Once the pressure reached approximately 2.6 million times that of the Earth’s atmosphere, the resulting material became a superconductor.
At first, the researchers did not believe they’d made a breakthrough of this magnitude and therefore subjected the material to a magnetic field, as superconductors are known to lose their superconductivity under such conditions.
To their surprise, this had led the material to lose its superconducting powers, unless a much lower temperature was provided to make up for the effect, which finally dispelled the team’s doubts about the results.
Ever since the discovery of superconductivity in 1911, researchers have been pushing the boundaries of materials which exhibit this property, forcing them to superconduct at higher and higher temperatures. For this reason, the recent achievement is not exactly a surprise, yet breaking the symbolic room-temperature limit is an impressive achievement nonetheless.
And while the new material still requires great pressure to function, researchers will now be able to shift their focus away from temperature, hopefully speeding up the arrival of the first superconductor that works at room-temperature and under atmospheric pressure.
In the future, superconductors could radically reduce energy losses in the electrical grid, improve current technologies, such as MRI machines, and even allow for the development of magnetically levitated public transportation.