About room-temperature superconductor, everything you wanted to know here
Recently, a team of scientists claimed to have discovered the world's first room-temperature superconductor, LK-99, which has sparked widespread discussion. So, what is a room-temperature superconductor? And why is it attracting so much attention?
What is a Room-Temperature Superconductor?
A superconductor is a material that exhibits zero electrical resistance below a certain temperature, known as the superconducting critical temperature (Tc). Traditional superconducting materials only demonstrated superconductivity under extremely special conditions, making large-scale applications challenging. However, room-temperature superconductivity refers to the phenomenon of achieving superconductivity at ambient temperatures.
If room-temperature superconductivity can be achieved under common physical conditions, it would minimize heat generation, enhance electrical conductivity and device efficiency, and enable widespread applications of superconducting materials, ultimately leading to comprehensive and profound changes in human society.
Current Superconducting Materials
Currently, superconducting materials can be broadly categorized into several types: metallic and alloy superconductors, cuprate superconductors, heavy fermion superconductors, organic superconductors, iron-based superconductors, and other oxide superconductors.
Based on their properties, superconducting materials can be further classified into low-temperature superconductors and high-temperature superconductors.
Low-temperature superconductors refer to materials with low critical transition temperatures (Tc < 30K, operating at liquid helium temperatures), including metals, alloys, and compounds. Niobium (Nb) is a practical low-temperature superconducting metal with a critical temperature of 9.3K, and its thin film form has been used in weak electric fields. Alloy-based low-temperature superconducting materials are β-phase solid solutions based on niobium, with critical temperatures above 9K.
Low-temperature superconducting materials typically require expensive liquid helium environments for operation. Due to the costly and inconvenient methods of liquid helium cooling, the large-scale development of low-temperature superconductors has been hindered. Applications of low-temperature superconducting materials mainly include high-power applications (such as applications in strong magnetic fields and high-current transmission) and low-power applications (such as microelectronics and precision measurements).
High-temperature superconductors (HTS) exhibit both superconductivity and diamagnetism. To achieve practical applications of superconductors, it is crucial to develop readily available high-temperature superconducting materials. Therefore, current research primarily focuses on finding materials capable of achieving superconductivity at higher temperatures.
High-temperature superconducting materials have broad application prospects, including high-current applications, electronics applications, and diamagnetic applications. Due to the zero electrical resistance and complete diamagnetism of superconducting materials, stable strong magnetic fields can be generated with minimal energy consumption. One of the fundamental characteristics of superconductors is their ideal conductivity in the superconducting state. Furthermore, their current-carrying capacity exceeds that of conventional conductors, enabling the transmission of high currents and the generation of strong magnetic fields without resistive heat losses.
Power equipment requires high currents, strong magnetic fields, and high voltages. By using superconducting materials, electrical losses can be reduced, efficiency can be improved, size and weight can be decreased, costs can be reduced, and device capacity limits can be increased. Clearly, the application of superconducting materials has brought about a qualitative leap in power technology, making many previously unattainable power devices a reality or soon-to-be reality.
In China, where power resources and distribution are unevenly distributed, long-distance, low-loss transmission technology is highly urgent. Due to their zero electrical resistance and significantly higher current-carrying capacity compared to conventional conductors, superconducting materials can transport large currents and powers without power losses. According to statistical data, if China's copper or aluminum lines were replaced with superconducting materials, the amount of electricity saved each year would be equivalent to constructing dozens of large-scale power plants. The application prospects of superconducting materials in these fields are very enticing.
Significance and Impact of Room-Temperature Superconductivity
If room-temperature superconductivity can be achieved, its potential impact will manifest in several aspects:
Energy Transmission and Storage
The transmission efficiency of superconducting currents is much higher than conventional cables, leading to a significant reduction in energy loss. Room-temperature superconducting technology will enable more efficient and reliable electrical systems, promote the widespread use of renewable energy, and address energy shortages and environmental pollution.
Superconducting technology has broad application prospects in areas such as magnetic levitation trains and magnetically propelled aircraft. The emergence of room-temperature superconductivity will reduce energy consumption, improve speed and stability, and drive innovation and development of future transportation vehicles.
Medical Equipment and Scientific Research
Room-temperature superconducting technology can enhance magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices and advance breakthroughs in biological sciences and medical research. It will accelerate the development of treatment and diagnosis, making significant contributions to human health.
Information Technology and Communication
Superconducting materials have potential applications in electronic components and computer chips. The advent of room-temperature superconductivity will improve the speed and performance of integrated circuits, accelerate the development of information technology, and further promote the digital age.
Application Scope of Superconducting Technology
The breakthrough advancements and wide-ranging applications of superconducting technology will trigger a new technological revolution and have immeasurable impacts on science, the economy, the military, and even social development. Superconducting technology has a vast range of applications in fields such as power transmission, electric motors, transportation, aerospace, microelectronics, electronic computers, communication, nuclear physics, new energy, bioengineering, healthcare, and military equipment, all of which have shown brilliant prospects.
Superconducting Devices: Superconductors with zero resistance greatly enhance the utilization of existing electronic technology. Traditional circuits suffer from significant electrical consumption caused by resistive losses, resulting in immense resources being invested in addressing heat dissipation issues. Research on superconducting and quantum computers has made significant progress, improving computational speed and efficiency while saving energy.
Quantum Computing: Two quantum computers based on electromagnetic laser and superconducting microwave technologies have been developed, demonstrating the potential of superconducting materials in the field of computing.
Superconducting Power Generation: Superconducting generators offer advantages such as high efficiency, small size, lightweight, and low reactance, enabling higher current densities and magnetic field intensities. Superconducting magnetohydrodynamic generators are highly efficient and possess a large power generation capacity, reducing power generation losses.
Superconducting Power Transmission: Superconducting wires and transformers made from superconducting materials can transmit power almost losslessly, saving electrical energy. Superconducting power transmission can avoid the energy losses associated with traditional transmission lines.
Maglev Transportation: Superconducting maglev technology enables high-speed train and car suspension, improving tire and machinery efficiency and speed.
Maglev Machinery: By applying magnetic levitation characteristics in mechanical development, friction can be reduced, enhancing mechanical performance and functionality.
Maglev Architecture: Maglev technology can improve spatial utilization efficiency and expand human living spaces.
Superconducting Medical Applications: Significant progress has been made in the application of superconducting magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices for medical diagnosis.
Nuclear Fusion Reactor "Magnetic Confinement": Strong magnetic fields generated by superconductors can confine controlled nuclear fusion energy, providing new solutions for nuclear fusion.
Superconducting Gravity Simulation: Utilizing the forces produced by room-temperature superconductors, gravity environments in spacecraft can be simulated.
World's First Room-Temperature Superconductor LK-99 Discovered by Korean Team
In July 2023, the Quantum Energy Research Center (Q-center) and Goryeo University in South Korea successfully synthesized the world's first room-temperature superconductor, LK-99. This modified lead-phosphorite material exhibits superconducting properties under ambient pressure conditions and maintains its superconductivity below 127℃.
While this research has garnered significant attention, the current results still exhibit some randomness and have not definitively proven LK-99 to be a room-temperature superconductor. Scientists state that further verification is necessary to draw conclusive evidence.
So, is room-temperature superconductivity truly achievable?
According to a professor from Peking University's School of Physics, room-temperature superconductivity represents one of the holy grails in the field of physics. Although more validation is required, as long as we adhere to the fundamental principles of physics, we should continue exploring and nurturing dreams of room-temperature superconductivity.
Many scientists believe in the existence of room-temperature superconductors and are conducting related research in countries such as the United States, China, and Japan. However, confirming a room-temperature superconductor completely is no easy task, as it requires simultaneously possessing zero electrical resistance and perfect diamagnetism. Over time, various theoretical room-temperature superconductors have been proposed, such as metallic hydrogen. Nevertheless, these concepts are still in the exploratory stage, and breakthroughs have yet to be achieved.
Having theoretical support implies the possibility exists, and scientists will persist in their research. Driven by optimistic theories and scientific exploration, we march towards realizing the epoch-making dream of room-temperature superconductivity, which is unquestionably promising.
Achieving room-temperature superconductivity will boost the engineering and economic feasibility of magnetic confinement fusion energy, revolutionize the circuit board industry, and bring about a groundbreaking impact on technological civilization. Although further validation is required for this new discovery, we eagerly anticipate the arrival of that day.