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Scientists Create Room Temperature Superconductor 380

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-that-cold-anymore dept.
StarEmperor writes "A team of Canadian and German scientists have fabricated a room-temperature superconductor, using a highly compressed silicon-hydrogen compound. According to the article,"The researchers claim that the new material could sidestep the cooling requirement, thereby enabling superconducting wires that work at room temperature.""
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Scientists Create Room Temperature Superconductor

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  • Room-pressure? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by atomicthumbs (824207) <atomicthumbs@gmail . c om> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:20PM (#22801452) Homepage
    Is it also a room-pressure superconductor?
    • Re:Room-pressure? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zymergy (803632) * on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:22PM (#22801488)
      NOPE. Do not pass Go Do not collect $200.

      "Instead of super-cooling the material, as is necessary for conventional superconductors, the new material is instead super-compressed. The researchers claim that the new material could sidestep the cooling requirement, thereby enabling superconducting wires that work at room temperature."
      • Re:Room-pressure? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:31PM (#22801598) Homepage
        Rats. Though at least hypothetically, it seems like it would be easier to design a containment for a high-pressure superconductor that requires minimal energy to maintain versus a low-pressure one. You can design a pressure vessel such that the pressure only escapes via small known locations (any valve or seal), whereas cold always escapes in all directions. So there still may be practical advantages to this discovery.

        Though in any event characterizing the behavior of high-pressure materials is valuable.
      • How much pressure? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Gorimek (61128) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @12:45AM (#22803632) Homepage
        It doesn't say how much "super pressure" is.

        If a power cable at the bottom of the ocean is under enough pressure, it could be very useful.
    • Re:Room-pressure? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:36PM (#22801640)
      No, but I suspect that this will still be a huge breakthrough, because we're generally better at keeping things pressurized than at keeping them cold. We have many, many static, high-pressure system with high reliability, but not that many super-cooled ones because cooling requires active energy expenditures.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AlecC (512609)
        But if it does go wrong, things could be bad. Superconductors are laready prone to explosive failure if a superconductor suddenly ceasews to superconduct. If that is inside a very high pressure vessel, the available energy from a destructive malfunction is frightening : Mega-amps of electicity and giga-pascals of pressure suddenly being unleashed in the wrong place.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by bdjacobson (1094909)

          But if it does go wrong, things could be bad. Superconductors are laready prone to explosive failure if a superconductor suddenly ceasews to superconduct. If that is inside a very high pressure vessel, the available energy from a destructive malfunction is frightening : Mega-amps of electicity and giga-pascals of pressure suddenly being unleashed in the wrong place.

          Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "you let the magic smoke out".

          With this new technology, I imagine a lot fewer people will be alive to say this. Overclockers beware-- these chips will let YOUR smoke out too!

    • The real question is, is it suitable for stretching into cables that can carry a reasonable amount of current. Without that, it's just a parlor trick.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by deek (22697)
        Superconductivity is not only useful for power distribution. It can also be used for energy storage and high strength magnetic fields. There still may be a fair few practical uses for a high pressure superconductor.
  • Applications? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I know Michael Flynn, in his novel Firestar [amazon.com] had some of his whizbang young people contributing to a new space age by developing superconductors that work at room temperature, but he never said what exactly superconductors do in space travel. What exactly new technologies will we see built on this?
  • Umm... (Score:5, Informative)

    by linuxboredom (1054516) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:21PM (#22801476)
    So, how exactly is this a good alternative to colder superconductors? Pressure is often more expensive to safely maintain. Not to mention the fact that SiH4 autoignites at room temperature.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dotmax (642602)
      That's a good question. As they say, "more research is indicated". It might be a dead-end, and it might be a gateway to something fabulously useful.

      On an grim note, i happened to notice a distinct lack of American presence in this announcement. Seems to be a Canadian/German thing. Y'know, that science stuff the US is running away from at full tilt (i work at a large US atom smasher that, like a *lot* of other Big and L'il Science Thangs, got a major budgetary wedgie this year). At least i still have

      • worth a read (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:52PM (#22801804)

        You might find this [american.com] worth a read in considering the future of science in the US.

        • Re:worth a read (Score:5, Interesting)

          by CrazedWalrus (901897) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:59PM (#22802374) Journal
          Thanks for the link. It's a great read.

          This just reinforces my idea that the internet came along at an absolutely perfect time to save America from itself. As these wonderful-sounding yet completely impractical ideas continue to pervert and destroy our academic institutions, the internet will necessarily play a larger and larger role as an alternative to "traditional" learning venues.

          Many of us technologists are mostly self-taught when it comes to our professions -- particularly sysadmin and programmer types -- because the technology was available and the communications infrastructure just adequate that we were able to get the learning tools we required to equip ourselves for our career. Many of us then went to school already knowing the better part of what was necessary for our careers.

          I propose that people like this were the pioneers of internet learning, and that, as academic institutions continue down their strictly regulated politically correct paths to irrelevance, people who really want to learn will do so online in the world classroom.

          I'm not saying that's ideal. I'm just saying that, if special interest groups and politicians looking for a soundbite get their way (and they will), it might be the only way, short of leaving the country altogether.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by inKubus (199753)
            The problem is most people don't finish college, therefore the politicians are doing what the masses want. The problem isn't the politicians--it's the masses.
    • Re:Umm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by pla (258480) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:40PM (#22801676) Journal
      So, how exactly is this a good alternative to colder superconductors?

      Because you can maintain a given pressure without the continual input of energy. Temperature (in either direction) has the annoying habit of doing its best to match that of the ambient environment.


      Not to mention the fact that SiH4 autoignites at room temperature.

      In the presence of oxygen, yes... Fortunately, you can buy small glass containers that maintain an anoxic environment at four for a dollar, under the name "light bulbs".


      Pressure is often more expensive to safely maintain.

      Don't think in terms of working with compressed gasses - Think of something more like a propane tank, where once you have it in there, it just sits there and doesn't really take a whole lot of maintenance. Keep it out of the sun and avoid mechanical stresses, and it will stay compressed and not do nasty things like burning/exploding for decades.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gardyloo (512791)

        Because you can maintain a given pressure without the continual input of energy. Temperature (in either direction) has the annoying habit of doing its best to match that of the ambient environment.
        Pressure has that annoying habit, too. After all, nature always likes to smooth out gradients of any sort. We just know how to deal with gradients of pressure a little more reliably than with those of temperature.
    • Not to mention the fact that SiH4 autoignites at room temperature.

      Also: I hear silanes (beyond n=1) are VERY toxic.

      Back in my undergraduate days my chemistry teaching fellow was doing research on them. He claimed that the ones he was working on were so toxic that if you could smell them you had already exceeded the fatal dose.

      (Now he might have been feeding me and the rest of the class a line of bull. But I wasn't about to argue with him. It WAS his thesis project, which implies that he should know what
  • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:23PM (#22801494) Homepage
    Like Leonard Bernstein, for instance?
  • I don't believe it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by barakn (641218)
    Really.. I'm not just saying that.
    • by barakn (641218)
      Or maybe I do believe it. It's fairly hard to get synchrotron time if you're a crackpot. The article is sparse on details though, especially the pressure used...
  • by 427_ci_505 (1009677) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:23PM (#22801506)
    Researchers in Fairbanks, Alaska have just created a room temperature superconductor.
  • by oddtodd (125924) <oddtodd@mindspring. c o m> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:24PM (#22801512)
    the scientists, that is...
  • Its a bomb (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slashdotlurker (1113853) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:26PM (#22801536)
    Silane explodes with considerable violence on exposure to air. Plus, how are you going to put conductors under great pressure ? The main attractiveness of super conductors lies in long distance electrical supply lines. Unless they come up with a way to hermetically seal the "wire" over distances of hundreds of miles with a seal that can withstand high pressure compressors dotting the landscape (unlikely), this very interesting advance will remain just that - very interesting.

    All not counting whether it is more energy efficient to run superconductors with energy hog compressors or to just stick to what we have, hopefully realizing practical room temperature superconductivity.
    • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:39PM (#22801672)

      Silane explodes with considerable violence on exposure to air
      Cool, I get to mark two things off my Star Trek checklist in a single day:

      * Room-temperature superconductors
      * Computers that explode violently
    • by Torvaun (1040898)
      It'd put evolutionary pressure on hicks to not shoot at them. It's a lesser victory, but a victory nonetheless.
    • Re:Its a bomb (Score:5, Informative)

      by evanbd (210358) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:08PM (#22801956)

      Silane explodes with considerable violence on exposure to air.

      The best part? It's only *mostly* pyrophoric in air. *Sometimes* it waits a little while and accumulates a nice big cloud first, rather than flaring the instant it starts leaking.

    • Re:Its a bomb (Score:4, Informative)

      by shotfire (1190219) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:36PM (#22802206)
      High voltage is already 'transmitted' in pressurized bus work. The bus work is pressurized with SF6 gas and is regularly used with voltages up to 500kV. This is common in Transformer Stations and other high voltage equipment (breakers, etc). You can come within 3' of a 500kV bus that's pressurized in SF6 (you can theoretically touch the outside of the bus work too, but I wouldn't). Unfortunately it's not economically feasible to do this over long distances. SF6 in itself is not toxic to humans, although it has a nasty habit of displacing all the oxygen in your vicinity. The by-products created when electrical arc occur within the SF6 gas are extremely toxic.
    • Re:Its a bomb (Score:4, Informative)

      by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:48PM (#22802300) Journal

      Plus, how are you going to put conductors under great pressure ?
      1. Make a wire of the material.
      2. Clad material with a metal coating at high temperature.
      3. Wait for the cladding to contract as it cools.
      It's like the old metal shop trick where you get a red-hot brass washer that barely fits on a dry-ice cold steel rod and put them together.
    • About 20 years ago I watched them building a silane bunker where I worked. What a blast, figuratively speaking. Several layers deep of woven re-bars, zig-zag re-bar stitching between the layers. Concrete walls poured around them 1.5+ feet thick. Weak roof - any blast was supposed to be directed upward. A fun construction project to watch, whenever one had to walk past.

      Incidentally, just how much magnetic field can this superconductor take. Temperature is only one Achilles heel of superconductors, the o
  • If I was playing civ, then this would be a pre-req for some sort of crazy future weapon.
  • by Detritus (11846) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:27PM (#22801546) Homepage
    Silane is pyrophoric and boils at 161 K. It may be a while before this leads to practical results.
  • Egad, man! What's the point?
  • by PseudoThink (576121) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:29PM (#22801566)
    So how long before we get to pay several hundred dollars for high-pressure, superconducting HDMI cables that take our HD viewing to the "next level"...and also spontaneously ignite if they are chewed on by the family pet?
  • Easy step now (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:30PM (#22801580) Journal
    The hard part's done: We found a supercompressed gas (boiling point -161F) that superconducts. The next step now involves finding something electrically similar (think lead oxide + aluminum versus iron oxide + aluminum. Ignite iron oxide + Al and get Aluminum Oxide and iron and heat; ignite lead oxide + aluminum and get deadly lead gas + aluminum oxide + about 50 times more heat). Find the right chemical properties (solid until 500C?) on an electrically similar compound and you got yourself a deal.
  • This was some sort of holy grail, ne?

    Now they just have to solve the pressure problem...

  • So, lets say this eventually becomes a common technology (doubtful, but lets pretend). When do we get to stop calling them 'super'conductors? When the super becomes the common, is it still super? Like the evolution of memory classification in DOS. Before the advent of the NY kernal, I spent considerable time trying to remember the difference between conventional, extended, expanded, upper, and high memory. I think the main reason DOS gave way to Windows was Microsoft ran out of superlatives....
    • by Chmarr (18662)
      "Superconducting" means "you can't get any more conductive than this". So, there's no problem.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:58PM (#22801864) Homepage
      So, lets say this eventually becomes a common technology (doubtful, but lets pretend). When do we get to stop calling them 'super'conductors?

      Never, because the physics of super conductors is different from regular conductors, and regular conductors are never going away. There are many, many circumstances where having resistance is necessary, and for that you need a plain-ol' conductor. Also I think we're safe from creeping-superlative-itis because you pretty much can't get more "super" than "effectively zero resistance".

      And what's so hard about remembering all the types of DOS memory? "Conventional" was the kind that you never had enough of to launch your games. "Extended" memory was a baroque and stupid way of accessing all the extra memory you had that the chip couldn't address directly. "Expanded" memory was the same thing, only different. "Upper" memory was the memory your chip could address but refused to let your games use. And lastly "high" memory is when you were editing your config.sys autoexec.bat to get more conventional memory but you got distracted thinking about how funny it would be if .bat files were like, actually bats that flew around in your computer, and you forgot what the line was you just deleted, and your game never runs again.
  • OK, so previously a room temperature superconductor was considered a "Holy Grail" of science. However, as others have pointed out, this one won't be particularly practical since it requires large pressures to operate. We need to update the stated requirement for Holy Grail status as "STP superconductor".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:45PM (#22801734)
    I'm holding TFA (Science, 14 March 2008, pp. 1506-1509). The highest critical temperatures they observed, regardless of pressure, were around 17 Kelvin (between 96-120 GPa). These are interesting results because they are among the few measurements available to shed light on the behavior of dense hydrides at these pressures, and these materials might, if better understood, one day allow a room temperature superconductor to be made. This, however, is not it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:06PM (#22801936)
      Thanks for looking up the original paper (DOI: 10.1126/science.1153282). The EETimes reporter seems to be terribly confused.
      The money quote from the paper:

      On cooling, a typical metallic behavior of the resistance was observed and eventually becoming superconducting (SC) at Tc {approx} 7 K (Fig. 2B). Upon further compression, the sample became completely opaque at 76 GPa, and Tc increased, with pressure up to 17.5 K at 96 GPa and 17 K at 120 GPa (Fig. 2C). At higher pressures, Tc decreases to 8.8 K at 165 GPa and is then likely to increase again to 11.3 K at 192 GPa (Fig. 2C). The behavior of Tc between 90 GPa and 120 GPa is suggestive that higher values of critical temperature of superconductivity may be possible. However, uncontrollable change of pressure during sample loading (20) prohibited us from studying this regime in detail.
  • Damn you samzenpus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vikstar (615372) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:46PM (#22801742) Journal
    God damn you for the headline "Scientists Create Room Temperature Superconductor". I almost fell of my chair in excitment. Then my climax was rapidly stolen when I read that it required high pressures. Next time, try to replace typical news sensationalistic headlines with pertinant headlines. In this case "Scientists Create Room Temperature but High Pressure Superconductor".
    • by Nimey (114278)
      You mean you don't automatically assume "sensationalism" or "submitter/editor got it wrong" when you see a Slashdot article? Especially one dealing with science.

      You're newer here than I am.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BoChen456 (1099463)
      Its worse, correct headline is "Scientists increase temperature of superconductor by adding great pressure, thinks its possible to get room temperature superconductor by adding even more pressure (Even though there is no way to generate that pressure yet)."
    • by kravlor (597242) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @10:25PM (#22802926) Homepage
      Amen.

      I work in nuclear fusion. One of the things we lust after in my field of research is more efficient superconducting magnets. Hell, even getting up to liquid nitrogen temperatures would be amazing for us. In the meantime, we're stuck with using liquid He and associated cryogenics, plus extra nuclear shielding around the $$$ SC coils.

      Oh well. I thought we might have had something truly wonderful going with this one tonight, but it's just false advertising... (sigh)
  • The group in Germany that did the experimental work specializes in doing measurements of pressures of ~100 GPa. It looks like they use diamond anvils, http://www.mpg.de/bilderBerichteDokumente/dokumentation/pressemitteilungen/2004/pressemitteilung200408022/index.html [www.mpg.de] . So, okay, this would be a really earthshattering development if it led to superconductors that work at room temperature and at ordinary pressures, but it sounds like that may not happen. We already have superconductors that work at liquid ni

  • given the rising global temperature... it seems logical that we will still need some sort of cooling to keep rooms at 'room temperature'

    at least anywhere south of the artic circle

  • is that an early April Fools or what?
  • by otis wildflower (4889) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @07:57PM (#22801862) Homepage
    I wonder if these molecules would fit within carbon buckytubes, and if those tubes could withstand the pressure required for room-temp superconductivity without exploding into organic compounds?
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @08:01PM (#22801886)
    give it my job. There's more than enough pressure.
  • by randolph (2352) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @12:50AM (#22803660)
    The more is that the researchers have shown that silane turns into a metal at very high pressures; while researchers have not managed to create metallic hydrogen, they have managed this. The less is that it's only a 17-degree Kelvin superconductor--not an extraordinary temperature--and the pressures involved are on the order of half a million atmospheres.

    The original article [sciencemag.org] was published in Science on 14 March 2008; Vol. 319. no. 5869, pp. 1506 - 1509; DOI: 10.1126/science.1153282. Your local library can probably get you a copy; if you are at a university you may be able to access the online version.

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