Physicists lead the race for room-temperature superconductivity

Diamond Anvil Sail

In their research a team of physicists from UNLV’s Nevada Extreme Conditions Lab (NEXCL) used a diamond anvil cell, similar to the one pictured, in their research to reduce the pressure needed to observe a material capable of room-temperature superconductivity. Research tools used. credit: image courtesy of nexcl

Less than two years ago the science world was shocked by the discovery of a material capable of room-temperature superconductivity. Now, a team of physicists from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) has gone ahead once again by reproducing the feat at the lowest pressure ever recorded.

To be clear, this means that science is closer to a usable, replicable material that could one day revolutionize how energy is transported.

Discovery made international headlines in 2020 Room temperature superconductivity for the first time by UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and collaborator Ranga Dias, a physicist at the University of Rochester. To achieve this feat, the scientists chemically synthesized a mixture of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen first in the metallic state, and then even further into the room-temperature superconducting state using extremely high pressure – 267 gigapascals – conditions. Extended. Nature near the center of the Earth.

Fast forward less than two years, and researchers are now able to nail the feat at just 91 GPAs—about a third of the pressure initially reported. The new findings were published as an advance article in the journal chemical communication this month,

a super discovery

Through detailed tuning of the structure of the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen used in the original breakthrough, researchers are now able to produce a material at low pressures that retains the state of superconductivity.

Study lead author Gregory Alexander Smith said, “These are pressures at levels difficult to understand and evaluate outside the laboratory, but our current trajectory suggests that it is possible to achieve relatively high superconducting temperatures at consistently low pressures – which is our The ultimate goal.” graduate student researcher with UNLV Nevada Extreme Conditions Laboratory (NEXCL). “Ultimately, if we want to make devices beneficial to societal needs, we have to reduce the pressure required to make them.”

Although the pressure is still very high—about a thousand times higher than you’d experience at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench—they continue to race toward the goal of nearly zero. It’s a race that is rapidly gaining steam at UNLV as researchers gain a better understanding of the chemical interactions between the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen that make up the material.

Salamat said, “Our knowledge of the relationship between carbon and sulfur is advancing rapidly, and we are finding ratios that yield remarkably different, and more efficient, reactions than those observed initially. are doing.” study. “Seeing such different phenomena in a similar system shows the richness of Mother Nature. There is much more to understand, and every new advance brings us closer to deciphering everyday superconducting devices.”

The Holy Grail of Energy Efficiency

Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon that was first observed more than a century ago, but only at remarkably low temperatures that precluded any idea of ​​practical application. It was only in the 1960s that scientists proved that this feat was possible at high temperatures. The 2020 discovery by Salamat and colleagues of a room-temperature superconductor excited the science world partly because the technology supports electric current with zero resistance, meaning that energy passing through a circuit can be infinitely spaced. can be operated from and without loss of power. This could have major implications for energy storage and transmission, supporting everything from better cell phone batteries to more efficient energy grids.

“The global energy crisis shows no signs of slowing down, and costs are rising due to the US energy grid, which loses about $30 billion annually due to the inefficiencies of current technology,” Salamat said. “For social change, we need to lead with technology, and I believe what is being done today is at the forefront of the solutions of tomorrow.”

According to Salamat, the properties of superconductors could support a new generation of materials that could radically change the energy infrastructure of the US and beyond.

“Imagine harnessing energy in Nevada and sending it across the country without any energy loss,” he said. “This technology may one day make it possible.”

Reference: “Carbon content drives high-temperature superconductivity in carbonized sulfur hydrides below 100 GPa” by G. Alexander Smith, Ines E. Collings, Elliot Snyder, Dean Smith, Sylvain Petitgirard, Jesse S. Smith, Melanie White, Alice Jones, Paul Ellison , Keith V. Lawler, Ranga P. Dias and Ashkan Salamat, 7 July 2022, chemical communication,
DOI: 10.1039/D2CC03170A

Smith, the lead author, is a former UNLV graduate researcher in Salamat’s laboratory and a current doctoral student in chemistry and research with NEXCL. Additional study authors include Salamat, Dean Smith, Paul Ellison, Melanie White and Keith Lawler with UNLV; Ranga Dias, Elliot Snyder and Alice Jones with the University of Rochester; With the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Ines E. Sylvain Petitgirard with Calling, ETH Zurich; and Jesse S. Smith with Argonne National Laboratory.

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