Scientists Create First Room-Temperature Superconductor

Vijay Singh   October 16, 2020

A team of physicists and materials scientists from the University of Rochester, the University of Nevada Las Vegas and Intel Corporation has created material that is superconducting at room temperature.

First discovered in 1911, superconductivity gives materials two key properties. Electrical resistance vanishes. And any semblance of a magnetic field is expelled, due to a phenomenon called the Meissner effect.

The magnetic field lines have to pass around the superconducting material, making it possible to levitate such materials.

Powerful superconducting electromagnets are already critical components of maglev trains, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machines, particle accelerators and other advanced technologies, including early quantum supercomputers.

But the superconducting materials used in the devices usually work only at extremely low temperatures — lower than any natural temperatures on Earth. This restriction makes them costly to maintain — and too costly to extend to other potential applications.

“The cost to keep these materials at cryogenic temperatures is so high you can’t really get the full benefit of them,” said team leader Dr. Ranga Dias, a researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester.

Previously, the highest temperature for a superconducting material was achieved in 2019 by two teams of researchers led by Max Planck Institute for Chemistry’s Dr. Mikhail Eremets and University of Illinois at Chicago’s Dr. Russell Hemley.

That teams reported superconductivity at 250 to 260 K (minus 23.15 to minus 13.15 degrees Celsius, or minus 9.67 to 8.33 degrees Fahrenheit) using lanthanum superhydride.

In setting the new record, Dr. Dias and his colleagues combined hydrogen with carbon and sulfur to photochemically synthesize simple organic-derived carbonaceous sulfur hydride in a diamond anvil cell.

The carbonaceous sulfur hydride exhibited superconductivity at 287.7 K (14.55 degrees Celsius, or 58.19 degrees Fahrenheit) and a pressure of and a pressure of about 39 million pounds per square inch (psi).

“Because of the limits of low temperature, materials with such extraordinary properties have not quite transformed the world in the way that many might have imagined,” Dr. Dias said.

“However, our discovery will break down these barriers and open the door to many potential applications.”

“We live in a semiconductor society, and with this kind of technology, you can take society into a superconducting society where you’ll never need things like batteries again,” added co-author Dr. Ashkan Salamat, a researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“The next challenge is finding ways to create the room temperature superconducting materials at lower pressures, so they will be economical to produce in greater volume,” Dr. Dias said.

“In comparison to the millions of pounds of pressure created in diamond anvil cells, the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level is about 15 psi.”

The research is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature.