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Researchers Develop Laser-Activated Superconductors for High-Temperature Applications

09 February 2016

Superconductors, the materials that conduct electricity without losing power and manage to produce strong magnetic fields, are typically used in medical scanners, fast electronic circuits, and, more recently, Maglev trains, which use superconducting magnets to make the train hover above the tracks.

Photo of a magnet levitating above a superconductor. (Image Credit: Mai-Linh Doan)Photo of a magnet levitating above a superconductor. (Image Credit: Mai-Linh Doan)

The problem with superconductors is that they only work at low temperatures so liquid nitrogen or helium is needed to maintain their temperature. However, an international team of scientists, led by the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter, has discovered that shining lasers at superconductors can actually make them work at higher temperatures.

The team came to this realization by shining a laser at a material made up of potassium and carbon atoms that were arranged in bucky ball structures and found it to still be superconducting at more than -279 ºF.

This proved that lasers can be used to make a material into a superconductor at a much higher temperature than it would need naturally.

"Superconductors currently only work at very low temperatures, requiring expensive cryogenics -- if we can design materials that superconduct at higher temperatures, or even room temperature, it would eliminate the need for cooling, which would make them less expensive and more practical to use in a variety of applications,” said Dr. Stephen Clark, theoretical physicist at the University of Bath.

Next, the team will attempt to find other superconductors that can achieve functionality at even higher temperatures, specifically room temperature.

"Whilst this is a small piece of a very large puzzle, our findings provide a new pathway for engineering and controlling superconductivity that might help stimulate future breakthroughs,” said Clark.

The researchers hope these findings could lead to new routes and insights into making better superconductors that work at higher temperatures.



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