The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Graphite room-temp superconductor

Terra Quantum, research team present Scotch tape discovery Metal Tech News - January 31, 2024

Making some headlines so far this year, a research paper published in "Advanced Quantum Technologies" by leading quantum technology company, Terra Quantum, details a topic that swept the world up in a storm last fall – room temperature superconductors – and much like the excitement of LK-99, this superconductor is also made of a fairly benign ingredient, graphite.

Superconductivity is the ability of a conductor to transmit electrical current without the loss of any energy. If you have ever worked with, seen, or read anything about electricity, you've undoubtedly come across the term resistance, and it's exactly that – how much the energy is resisted as it travels through whatever conduit it is allowed.

This is just the nature of current transmissive technologies.

The theory of superconductivity has been around since its inception in 1911 by Dutch physicist Heiki Kamerling Onnes, who observed that at 4.2 degrees Kelvin (minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 268 degrees Celsius) the resistance in a solid mercury wire immersed in liquid helium suddenly vanished.

Immediately reporting his findings to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Onnes was recognized two years later with a Nobel Prize in Physics.

In the time since, it has been realized that superconductivity is a macroscopic quantum state. Thus, this discovery stimulated the development of today's quantum mechanics.

However, the models for superconductivity predict that one could hardly expect the phenomenon to occur above 20 degrees K (minus 423 degrees F or minus 253 degrees C).

As is often the case in scientific advancements, the discovery of "high-temperature superconductivity" in 1986 by Georg Bednorz and Alex Müller earned them the Nobel the following year, with proven superconductivity above 77 degrees K (minus 321 F or minus 196 C).

With the brief spike in superconductive possibility being reignited by LK-99, researchers have renewed efforts toward that coveted academic prize, and with the next piece of the puzzle remaining unresolved – superconductivity at room temperature – it appears that the technology may still have some time before it is fully unearthed, until recently that is.

Work by Terra Quantum's Chief Technology Officer Valerii Vinokur, together with Cristina Diamantini from the University of Perugia, Italy, and Carlo Trugenberger from SwissScientific Technologies, Switzerland, has once again revived the dream of superconductivity without supercooling.

Now, research led by Vinokur and Professor Yakov Kopelevich, with co-authors from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (State University of Campinas in Brazil), University of Perugia, and SwissScientific Technologies, has discovered superconductivity at room temperatures. The hope that was viewed as a fairy-tale story became a reality.

"Our work is an experimental discovery that humankind has been waiting for about a hundred years since the first observation of superconductivity in mercury," said Vinokur.

Once more, scotch tape

"This discovery made by our scientific team with our academic and industry partners opens the door to spectacular advances in superconducting technology," said Terra Quantum CEO Markus Pflitsch. "Room-temperature superconductivity opens a gateway to transformative advancements across industries."

Much like the whimsical experiment that brought graphene into the world, the team led by Kopelevich at Campinas used Scotch tape to cleave specially manufactured graphite, called pyrolytic graphite, into thin sheets.

Immediately, the researchers determined that the sheets were covered by dense arrays of wrinkles or defects in nearly parallel lines, the geometry of which caused electrons to pair up into structures that allowed superconducting currents to flow along them.

The mechanism that led to superconductivity along these one-dimensional defects was explained by the lead researchers.

Essentially, molecular stress points within the wrinkles create an environment that makes subatomic particles, the pieces that make up atoms, behave differently. The wrinkles bring about an attractive force that causes electrons within portions of the defects to link and coalesce into a single entity. Due to the thin nature of the practically one-dimensional sheets, concentrated portions within the wrinkles lead to a very sturdy ground state for the paired electrons.

"The emerging field of quantum computing will benefit enormously since the qubits that now operate only at 10 – 20 mK (milli-Kelvin) can come to room temperature functioning. Thus, the things that were viewed as futuristic dreams have become a reality," said Vinokur.

Extraordinary claims, however, require extraordinary evidence.

Whether this monumental breakthrough proves to be too painstaking to replicate in a different setting and difficult for peer review remains to be seen. If this discovery is founded, a golden age the likes of which has never been seen on Earth may begin.

"Imagine power grids almost free of energy loss, revolutionizing our approach to electricity transmission. In healthcare, enhanced MRI technologies will emerge, offering unprecedented diagnostic precision. Transportation will leap forward with energy-efficient, high-speed magnetically levitating trains. Electronics will enter a new era of miniaturization and power efficiency," said Pflitsch.

 

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