A “Rotten” Superconductivity Record


superconductivity record

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute have broken another Superconductivity record. Image credit: Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo/Alamy

After focusing on elaborate materials like cuprates for many decades, research have shifted towards simpler compounds like H2S. This pivot resulted in a high temperature superconductivity record in December 2014. Building on that success researchers managed to improve this even further reaching the “balmy” temperature of 203 K (–70 °C).

One major goal in research on superconductivity is finding a material exhibiting superconductivity at room temperature. Now researchers at Max Planch Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany might be closer to this end-goal by using a compound responsible for the smell of rotten eggs. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a fairly simple compound with no remarkable electrical conduction at room temperature. But when researchers applied extreme pressure, about 1.5 million atmospheres using a diamond anvil while cooling it, they found that it exhibited zero electrical resistance, superconductivity.

A superconductor is a material that lets electrons flow through it without any resistance. Current, the flow of electrons, are hindered by resistance in materials from vibrating atoms. This resistance leads to the formation of heat lowering efficiency of the transfer. Finding a material able to conduct electricity without resistance, a superconductor, could lead to faster computers, more efficient power generation and transmission, and better particle accelerators.

Since hydrogen sulfide isn’t a complex material like the previous record holder the cuprates, researchers are still trying to understand exactly how H2S can achieve superconductivity at such a high temperature. Previous theories postulates that the intense pressure forces the formation of “cooper pairs” or that that it simply stops the vibrations of atoms allowing electrons to seamlessly flow over the material.

If confirmed by independent research groups this breakthrough might lead to a shift in what types of materials have a potential application as superconductors.