Friday, April 18, 2008

Conductors with Super Powers

If you're visualizing a guy in a uniform armed with a hole-puncher wearing a mask and a cape, you're way off. We're talking about superconductors here - one word, not two. A superconductor is a fascinating material that is capable of allowing electrons to flow along wholly unimpeded. Tragically, materials typically only attain the feature of superconductivity at very, very near zero degrees Kelvin, or Absolute Zero (the theoretical point at which all motion, even the minute wobbling of individual atoms, ceases).

The reason I'm writing about superconductors is because there was an interesting bit of news today regarding a "Second Family of High-Temperature Superconductors" over at sciencenow.com. Bear in mind that when they say 'high temperature" they mean it in the same way that particle physicists mean "long-lived" when talking about some newly discovered element. That is to say, not really. You see, in the bubble in which these researchers operate, low temperature is at or around 0 degrees Kelvin. High temperature, apparently, is somewhere in the vicinity of 40 to 50 degrees Kelvin. That's still way way way way way colder than anything you will ever find in your daily life.

I'd have liked if the linked article spent a little more time discussing the possible uses of a truly high-temperature (Think room temperature, somewhere around 288 degrees Kelvin) superconductor, but that's probably because I've been reading sci-fi novels where superconducting power cables are so plentiful you practically have to climb out from under a pile of them every morning when you wake up and turn off your zero-gravity-sleeping-plates.

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