Saturday science subject: Room-temperature superconductors


— 10:11 AM on March 22, 2008

From quantum computers to magnets in the Large Hadron Collider, superconductors have many uses, but they typically need to be cooled at temperatures near absolute zero to achieve their superconductive state. However, according to EE Times, a team of Canadian and German researchers say they've managed to develop a superconductive material that could operate at room temperature. Rather than supercooling the material, the researchers were able to "super-compress" it. EE Times explains:

The new family of superconductors are based on a hydrogen compound called "silane," which is the silicon analog of methane--combining a single silicon atom with four hydrogen atoms to form a molecular hydride. (Methane is a single carbon atom with four hydrogens).

Researchers have speculated for years that hydrogen under enough pressure would superconduct at room temperature, but have been unable to achieve the necessary conditions (hydrogen is the most difficult element to compress). The Canadian and German researchers attributed their success to adding hydrogen to a compound with silicon that reduced the amount of compression needed to achieve superconductivity.

Presumably, by side-stepping the considerable cooling requirements of conventional superconductors, silane could allow superconductivity to be achieved at much lower cost—perhaps increasing the number of its applications.

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