Imagine your television set working for 0.0001Watt, or your electric car charged by the Sun as you go. Imagine almost never ending batteries powering cool engines, no power lost through heat. These are just dreams for the moment, but could be available in the near future, because scientists from the University of Cambridge have discovered the key to making materials able to superconduct at room temperature.
Throughout the years, all the science community studying superconductors has wondered how can copper-oxide, cooled to liquid nitrogen and below, cause superconducting and magnetic properties on it. Now, ironically, they found out that the material these must be made from are not metals, nor oxides, but ceramic! The ceramic materials behave like magnets before doping them (added impurities to them, just like you do to silicon to make a semiconductor).
Upon doping charge carriers (holes or electrons) into these parent magnetic insulators, they mysteriously begin to superconduct, i.e. the doped carriers form pairs that carry electricity without loss. The researchers have discovered where the charge ‘hole’ carriers that play a significant role in the superconductivity originate within the electronic structure of copper-oxide superconductors. These findings are particularly important for the next step of deciphering the glue that binds the holes together and determining what enables them to superconduct.
Dr Suchitra E. Sebastian, lead author of the study, commented, “An experimental difficulty in the past has been accessing the underlying microscopics of the system once it begins to superconduct. Superconductivity throws a manner of ‘veil’ over the system, hiding its inner workings from experimental probes. A major advance has been our use of high magnetic fields, which punch holes through the superconducting shroud, known as vortices – regions where superconductivity is destroyed, through which the underlying electronic structure can be probed.”
“We have successfully unearthed for the first time in a high temperature superconductor the location in the electronic structure where ‘pockets’ of doped hole carriers aggregate. Our experiments have thus made an important advance toward understanding how superconducting pairs form out of these hole pockets.”
There is a more complex method of determining the actual way the superconductors work, but I’m not going to cover it here, as you can find it on the source article from Cambridge via ScienceDaily. The important fact is, that once discovered, this “holy grail” of energy can become a basic concept in understanding the way energy interacts with material world, and could open paths we didn’t seem to care about in the past when studying energy conducting materials.