In a recent breakthrough, scientists have claimed to have developed a room-temperature superconductor. This discovery could revolutionize numerous fields, from medicine to quantum computing to transportation and logistics. However, this claim has been met with a healthy dose of skepticism due to past controversies surrounding superconductors.
Superconductors are materials that can conduct electricity without resistance, meaning they don’t lose any energy to heat. Superconductors have traditionally worked at extremely low temperatures, near absolute zero. However, a team of researchers from Korea has claimed to have developed a superconductor that works not just at room temperature but also at atmospheric pressure.
The key to this breakthrough is an unconventional form of superconductivity. The team has developed a new form of superconduction, coined “superconducting quantum wells,” which enables the superconductor to work at much higher temperatures than ever thought possible. This new superconductor, named LK 99, is made by replacing some of the lead atoms in lead apatite with copper atoms. This process allows electrons to move through the material without resistance.
Despite the excitement surrounding this discovery, there is also much skepticism. In the world of science and engineering, the greater the claim, the more skepticism it needs to be approached with. This skepticism is heightened due to past controversies surrounding superconductors. In 2020, a physicist at the University of Rochester in the U.S., Ranga Dias, published a paper in Nature claiming to have created a room-temperature superconductor. However, the paper was later retracted after other researchers could not replicate the results, and concerns were raised about potential data fabrication.
This time, the papers detailing the discovery were published on a pre-print server, meaning further corroboration and verification are required for wider scientific acceptance.
The implications could be game-changing if the claims about the room-temperature superconductor are true. Superconductors have many potential applications, from MRI machines to quantum computers, to transportation systems.
MRI machines currently use superconductors that must be cooled with liquid helium to near zero. With room-temperature superconductors, the system design would be dramatically simplified, and the cost of MRI machines would be significantly reduced.
Another application is in the field of quantum computing. Current quantum computers require complex cooling systems to keep the superconductors at low temperatures. Room-temperature superconductors could allow quantum computers to be much more accessible and portable.
For us, the most exciting application of room-temperature superconductors is in the field of magnetic levitation (maglev). Our zero-emission transport solution uses maglev to move containers between the Atlantic and the Pacific. With room-temperature superconductors, our solution, which is already zero-emission, would use even less energy.
We are cautiously optimistic about these developments and hope the findings can be corroborated. Fingers crossed!