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Room temp superconductors soon to come

Posted: 13 Apr 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:superconductor? trapped field magnet? critical states theory?

Room-temperature superconductors

"Room-temperature superconductors are presently only a dream," according to Weinstein. "But that dream has made significant progress. The temperature at which certain materials can superconduct has been increased about 25 times since the first discoveries. It needs to be increased by another factor of about 3 to reach room temperature."

Hot on the trail of room-temperature superconductors is another group reporting this week that quantum effects in superconducting compounds containing hydrogen crucially affect the temperature at which a material becomes superconducting.

Research performed at the Universidad del Paos Vasco, Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, the Donostia International Physics Center, the Sorbonne University of Paris, and the University of Rome 'La Sapienza' claims to show that sulfur hydride superconductor the highest reported temperature superconductor (at -94 Fahrenheit) is due to providing enough pressure to shove the hydrogen atoms exactly between the sulfur atoms (of H3S, see figure).

Ion Errea

Figure 2: Researcher Ion Errea at the Universidad del Pais Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea and Donostia International Physics Center used the quantum-wave nature of hydrogen to explain the superonducting structural properties of hydrogen-rich candidates for room-temperature superconductors. (Source: Universidad del Pais Vasco)

The principle researcher, Ion Errea at the Universidad del Pais Vasco (see photo) claims this new theoretical understanding is a "great step" toward the realisation of room-temperature superconductors.

"Our computational work suggests that the recently discovered high-temperature superconductivity in the hydrogen sulfide system, which holds the record for the highest critical temperature, occurs in a structure that is stabilised by the quantum nature of the hydrogen atom," Errea told EE Times in an exclusive interview. "We mean that if the hydrogen atom was treated as a classical particle the atoms would arrange differently. Instead, when the full quantum character of the hydrogen atom is considered, that is, it is not considered as a point particle but described with a probability distribution function, the structure becomes a beautifully symmetric one. We believe that such quantum symmetrisation is needed to explain the record superconductivity."

Ion Errea

Figure 3: Structure of symmetric hydrogen bonds, induced by the quantum behaviour of the protons, is represented by the fluctuating blue spheroids. (Source: Universidad del Pais Vasco)

Errea readily admits that his theoretical breakthrough will not lead immediately to applications in the real world, because of the high-pressures needed to realize near room-temperature superconductors, but he does believe he has provided the scientific community with the tools it needs to achieve that goal.

"Our research, together with other theoretical works, underlines that new computational techniques provide a fantastic tool in the quest for room-temperature superconductivity," Errea told EE Times. "The ultimate goal will be to obtain a room-temperature superconductor at ambient pressures. The discovery of high-temperature superconductivity in sulfur hydride shows that room-temperature superconductivity might be possible in other hydrogen-rich compounds. This might be reached sooner than later at high pressures. However, obtaining room-temperature superconductivity at ambient pressure remains a huge challenge."

Next, Errea's group aims to begin formulating different hydrogen-based compounds to find which ones are predicted to have the highest superconductivity temperature, then test them in the lab to compare their experimental results.

"Our next step is to continue in the quest for high-temperature superconductors in hydrides making use of our computational techniques hand-in-hand with the experimental results," Errea told us.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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