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Room Temperature Superconductivity


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Not Much

A study has shown that a new material superconducts at 15 degrees Celsius but at extremely high pressure.

In India, we often get to hear about the transmission losses in DISCOMS. Such losses can be zeroed with the application of superconducting cables (which is practically impossible unless we find a normal working one). The phenomena, superconductivity, however, is not new to us, UPSC may end up asking some tricky statements in the prelims regarding it.

What is Superconductivity?

  • A superconductor is a material, such as a pure metal like aluminium or lead, that when cooled to ultra-low temperatures allows electricity to move through it with absolutely zero resistance.
  • Kamerlingh Onnes was the first scientist who figured out exactly how superconductor works in 1911.
  • Simply put, superconductivity occurs when two electrons bind together at low temperatures.
  • They form the building block of superconductors, the Cooper pair.
  • This holds true even for a potential superconductor like lead when it is above a certain temperature.

What is the new material?

  • A new material composed of carbon, hydrogen and sulphur superconducts at 15 degrees Celsius.
  • However, it needs ultrahigh pressure of about 2 million atmospheres to achieve this transition, putting off any thoughts of application to the future.
  • The pressure they needed was 267 Gigapascals (GPa), or 2.6 million atmospheres.
  • The pressure at the centre of the Earth is 360 GPa, so it is 75% of the pressure at the centre of the Earth.

What are Superconductors?

  • Superconductors are materials that address this problem by allowing energy to flow efficiently through them without generating unwanted heat.
  • They have great potential and many cost-effective applications.
  • They operate magnetically levitated trains, generate magnetic fields for MRI machines and recently have been used to build quantum computers, though a fully operating one does not yet exist.

Issues with superconductors

  • They have an essential problem when it comes to other practical applications: They operate at ultra-low temperatures.
  • There are no room-temperature superconductors. That “room-temperature” part is what scientists have been working on for more than a century.
  • The amount of energy needed to cool a material down to its superconducting state is too expensive for daily applications.
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