Low pressure, high stakes: Physicists make big gains in the race for room-temperature superconductivity

Low pressure, high stakes: Physicists make big gains in the race for room-temperature superconductivity

A team of physicists from UNLV’s Nevada Extreme Laboratory (NEXCL) used a Massey anvil cell, a research device similar to the one imaged, in their research to lower the pressure needed to monitor a material capable of superconducting at room temperature. Credit: NEXCL

Less than two years after shocking the scientific world with the discovery of a material capable of room-temperature superconductivity, a team of physicists at UNLV has once again upped the ante by reproducing this feat at the lowest pressure ever recorded.

In other words, science is closer than ever to a usable, repeatable material that could one day revolutionize how energy is transported. UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and colleague Ranga Dias, a University of Rochester physicist, made global headlines in 2020 by reporting room-temperature superconductivity for the first time. To achieve this feat, the scientists made a chemical mixture of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen first into a metallic state, and then into a superconducting state at room temperature using extreme pressures — 267 gigapascals — conditions you find only in nature near the center of the Earth. Fast-forward in less than two years, and the team is now able to complete the feat at just 91 GPa – roughly a third of the pressure initially reported. The new findings were published this month as an advance article in the journal chemical communication.

great discovery

By detailed tuning of the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen composition used in the original hack, scientists are able to produce a material under low pressure that maintains its state of superconductivity.

“These are pressures at a level that are difficult to understand and assess outside the lab, but our current course shows that it is possible to achieve relatively high high conduction temperatures at consistently low pressures – and that is our ultimate goal,” said study lead author Gregory Alexander Smith. A graduate student researcher at UNLV’s Nevada Extreme Conditions Laboratory (NEXCL). “Ultimately, if we want to make devices useful to society’s needs, we have to reduce the pressure needed to create them.”

Although the pressures are still high – about a thousand times higher than what you might experience at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean – they continue to race toward a target approaching zero. It’s a steamy race at UNLV as scientists gain a better understanding of the chemical relationship between carbon, sulfur and hydrogen that makes up the material.

“Our knowledge of the relationship between carbon and sulfur is advancing rapidly, and we are finding ratios that lead to significantly different and more efficient responses than initially observed,” said Salamat, who directs NEXCL at UNLV and contributed to the latest study. “To observe such various phenomena in a similar system shows the richness of Mother Nature. There is much more to understand, and each new advance brings us closer to the edge of everyday superconducting devices.”

The Holy Grail of Energy Efficiency

Superconductivity is a fascinating phenomenon first observed over a century ago, but only at significantly lower temperatures any idea of ​​practical application has been ruled out. Only in the 1960s did scientists hypothesize that this feat might be possible at even higher temperatures. The 2020 discovery by Salamat and colleagues of a room-temperature superconductor excited the world of science in part because the technology supports electrical flow without resistance, meaning that power passing through an electrical circuit can be conducted infinitely and without energy loss. This could have major implications for energy storage and transmission, supporting everything from better cell phone batteries to a more efficient power grid.

“The global energy crisis is showing no signs of slowing down, and costs are rising in part because of the US power grid losing about $30 billion annually due to the inefficiency of current technology,” Salamat said. “For societal change, we need to be led by technology, and the work that’s happening today is, I believe, at the forefront of tomorrow’s solutions.”

According to Salamat, the properties of superconductors could underpin a new generation of materials that could fundamentally change the energy infrastructure in the United States and beyond.

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


Under pressure, the ‘squishy’ compound reacts in wonderful ways


more information:
Alexander Smith et al., Carbon content leads to increased high-temperature superconductivity in carbonic sulfur hydride below 100 GPa, chemical communication (2022). DOI: 10.1039 / D2CC03170A

Provided by University of Nevada, Las Vegas

quotes: Low Pressure, High Risk: Physicists Make Big Gains in Race for Room Temperature Superconductivity (2022, Aug. 3), Retrieved Aug. 4, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-pressure -high-stakes-physicists-major.html

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