Superconducting at room temperature?

IBM Research scientists adopt techniques from spintronics to pursue the answer 

Discovered a century ago, superconductivity promises to drastically improve storage and memory devices, create highly sensitive sensors, and make energy transmission cheaper. The challenge now is that the highest temperature superconducting material – demonstrated 25 years ago by IBM Research scientists – is liquid nitrogen, which superconducts at 77 Kelvin (-321F). This Nobel Prize-winning discovery still stands as the highest temperature superconductivity proven and recorded, but scientists worldwide are after higher temperature superconductors.  

“A superconducting wire the diameter of your thumb could carry as much power, more efficiently, than a copper cable the thickness of your arm,” said Kevin Roche, a scientist at IBM Research – Almaden.

IBM Fellow Stuart Parkin
Following the principles of physics demonstrated by Mueller and Bednorz in 1987, plus techniques derived from investigating spintronics – the study of electron spin across and between carefully arranged materials – IBM researchers, led by IBM Fellow Stuart Parkin, believe they are on the path to discover synthetic materials that will superconduct at room-temperature (297K or 75F). 

Stretching back to DRAM, IBM researchers have conducted thousands of experiments that control the unique electron spin activity within precisely engineered material layers. Their use of spintronics to produce sensor devices that read smaller and smaller data bits also formed the core component of Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM) – a non-volatile, faster, less expensive option to flash memory.

Combining Spintronics with Superconductivity

Spintronics Scientists
Kevin Roche
“We’ve gotten to the point where we understand how to manipulate spin and its behavior in artificially engineered solids,” said Roche. “Right now, the current class of superconductors work at liquid nitrogen temperatures or 77 Kelvin (-321F).

“Imagine if instead of liquid nitrogen, all we needed was room-temperature water, about 75 degrees F – that’s 400 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what is currently possible today.”

Parkin and the researchers at the spintronics lab in Almaden are studying the phenomenon of spin-engineered materials and discovering exotic behaviors – and with new classes of materials cropping up, they believe there is now enough collective knowledge about how spin behaves that they might be able to come up with a pathway to develop room-temperature superconductivity.

“Normally, electrons go through wire and they bounce around and generate heat – so you lose some of the power,” Roche says. A superconductor has lossless transmission – meaning all of the electricity goes through and no power is lost.”

The prospect of power and energy transmitted via superconductors at the temperature of water is attractive because water is easily accessible and inexpensive. If room-temperature superconductivity is achieved, superconducting materials can be used in everyday technology.

IBM Research Colloquia: Synthetic Routes to Room Temperature Superconductivity 

In a two-day workshop held October 17 and 18 at IBM Research – Almaden in San Jose, CA, chemists, physicists and theorists from academy and industry worldwide will come together for the 2012 Almaden Institute, “Superconductivity 297K – Synthetic Routes to Room Temperature Superconductivity.”

The workshop will be led by Claudia Felser, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, and Stuart Parkin. Stuart also manages IBM’s IBM’s Magnetoelectronics Group, and director of the IBM-Stanford Spintronic Science and Applications Center where he is a consulting professor.

Join the conversation:  @IBMResearch #SC297K with IBM Research expert Xin Jiang, tweeting live from the event

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