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Power Science

Europium's Superconductivity Demonstrated 103

Posted by samzenpus
from the great-new-taste dept.
gabrlknght writes "An old element just learned a new trick under pressure. When cooled and squeezed very hard, the soft metallic element europium turns into a superconductor, allowing electrons to flow unfettered by resistance, a study appearing May 13 in Physical Review Letters shows. The results make europium the 53rd of the 92 naturally occurring elements to possess superconductivity, which, if harnessed, could make for more efficient energy transfer."
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Europium's Superconductivity Demonstrated

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  • by gcnaddict (841664) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:32PM (#28034549)
    The Carnegie Institution for Science published something like this [ciw.edu] exactly one year ago today.

    Granted, it doesn't mention Europium, but the same principle applies.
  • "When cooled and squeezed very hard, the soft metallic element europium turns into a superconductor ... which, if harnessed, could make for more efficient energy transfer."

    After factoring in the cost of compressing and cooling a big long cable... In other words, not any time soon.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by craklyn (1533019)

      "When cooled and squeezed very hard, the soft metallic element europium turns into a superconductor ... which, if harnessed, could make for more efficient energy transfer." After factoring in the cost of compressing and cooling a big long cable... In other words, not any time soon.

      Superconductivity can be harnessed for efficient energy transfer. It's a boilerplate that is attached to any research associated with superconductivity to remind the general public whe they're spending millions of dollars on things which aren't available as direct dividends to their lives.

      • by swb (14022) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:25PM (#28035003)

        I figure the real benefit from research isn't the discoveries, its the economic benefit of decent, well-paying jobs in a pleasant park-like campus.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bh_doc (930270)

        One could've said similar things about semiconductors.

      • "When cooled and squeezed very hard, the soft metallic element europium turns into a superconductor ... which, if harnessed, could make for more efficient energy transfer." After factoring in the cost of compressing and cooling a big long cable... In other words, not any time soon.

        Superconductivity can be harnessed for efficient energy transfer. It's a boilerplate that is attached to any research associated with superconductivity to remind the general public whe they're spending millions of dollars on things which aren't available as direct dividends to their lives.

        ....hmmmmm, let's see: do you have gym shoes with velcro closure? that was an invention for the apollo program, to avoid having things fly in the capsule. I expect someone at the time said the same thing: "what's the use of sending people to the moon anyway?"
        As to High temperature superconducting, [wikipedia.org] the key temperature is the boiling point ofliquid nitrogen, which is relatively cheap and inert. AFAIK, superconducting power cables are in use now. [amsc.com]

    • by daveime (1253762)

      After factoring in the cost of compressing and cooling a big long cable... In other words, not any time soon

      Well considering the current "system loss" (generation and transmission losses) is between 25 and 30%, all a superconductor would have to do is consume *less* than that percentage to be more efficient.

      Now we've heard a lot about superconductors, but what if there is a potential for super-insulators, i.e. materials with the property not to conduct *any* electrons, EM radiation or heat in any form.

      Cool

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by asdf7890 (1518587)

        i.e. materials with the property not to conduct *any* electrons, EM radiation or heat in any form.

        I think the law of thermodynamics might have a thing or two to say on the subject of that idea.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      800,000 BAR (~14.5 PSI) = 11,600,000 PSI.

      There shouldn't be any problem finding a compressor capable of such pressures used on ebay.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What, is it French?

    • Bah, europium proudly shows off its superconductive superpowers while americium knows no better than to silently fall apart in the corner. Take it, americium! We'll kick your ass any day!
  • 80 GPa (Score:5, Funny)

    by quenda (644621) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:41PM (#28034653)

    80 giga-pascals of pressure? Could be useful for deep-sea power transmission. You only need to go 8000km deep to get that pressure naturally.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:53PM (#28034755)

    "An old element just learned a new trick under pressure"

    This is an example of Element abuse! An OLD element, FORCED to learn a new trick, UNDER PRESSURE no doubt!

    Stop the madness, leave the poor elements alone, especially the old ones.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by advocate_one (662832)
      if they become superconducting when under pressure... just wait till they start waterboarding them...
    • "At twenty-five atmospheres, calling it an ideal gas is kind of an insult."

      (From my undergraduate physical chemistry prof)
  • by thethibs (882667) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:53PM (#28034763) Homepage
    We must make sure that no one ever mixes europium with administerium. An EU "unfettered by resistance" could set civilization back a thousand years.
    • On the other hand, it might teach the pesky Americum [wikipedia.org] and the Americum based chemistry to obey the laws. That'd push civilization forward a thousand and one years.

  • We'll need billions of tons of the stuff to replace the present wiring infrastructure. OH? No billions of tons of Europium? Dang. foiled again.

    RS

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MadCow42 (243108)

      >> We'll need billions of tons of the stuff to replace the present wiring infrastructure

      Actually, no. To replace a 1cm thick copper cable you do NOT need a 1cm thick superconductor. I'm sure there's limits, but because there's no electrical resistance you can carry HUGE currents through tiny superconductors. We're talking several orders of magnitude difference here.

      Anyone have a real numerical comparison handy?

      MadCow

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        Surpsingly [imagesco.com] complicated [open.ac.uk], couldn't find any simple practical answers. Sorry. I did find some nifty pictures [aip.org] though.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by stei7766 (1359091)

        No numbers, but heres a picture:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CERN-cables-p1030764.jpg [wikipedia.org]

      • The point is that even if large quantities of electricity could be transmitted, we still would need large amounts of Europium. There simply isn't enough to use in transmission cables. I don't have figures on how rare it is but it is one of the "rare earth minerals". That should give you a clue. Even if enough could be obtained, what is the cost to mine enough. It doesn't sound very cost effective to me.

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          "Rare Earth" is a misnomer, and very very old terminology. Lanthanoids [wikipedia.org] are actually very common. Cerium is even the 26th most abundant element in the earth's crust (higher than gold, and we use a LOT of gold). Europium is used as a red phosphor in old TV sets and flourescent lamps.

          These elements are in fact fairly abundant in nature, although rare as compared to the "common" earths such as lime or magnesia.

          You realize lime is so abundant we use it in concrete, right? "Rare earths" are only rare in relation to extremely common elements. You could say they are on the rare side of common, if you like.

          • it's as abundant as uranium. In other words, not that abundant. Also, there are no europium mines - europium is usually found in conjunction with other metals and needs to be separated out - very energy intensive process.
  • Gee... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome (1008495) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:58PM (#28034795)

    Gee...I got all excited there for a moment. Until I read:

      "The results make europium the 53rd of the 92 naturally occurring elements to possess superconductivity"

    If the gnomes haven't figured out how to "harness" the magic contained in the OTHER 92 elements that super-conduct, why would this one be any different?

  • Rare Earth Metals (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:03PM (#28034839) Homepage

    I was quite surprised to read in Wikipedia that the rare earth metals are neither rare nor 'earths' [wikipedia.org] in reality.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:20PM (#28034973)

    All these elements are yours except Europium. Attempt no superconducting there.

  • Just how much energy was used in making the europium more efficient at energy transfer?

    The proverbial chicken and egg and perpetual motion machines called, they want their gimmick back.

    • by ral8158 (947954)
      *woosh* that's the sound of it going over your head.
      • by DragonTHC (208439)

        nope, looks like you can't read.

        When cooled and squeezed very hard

        cooling and squeezing both take tremendous energy. How much energy? Is it worth the trade-off for the increased efficiency?

        answer those questions instead of insulting.

  • by keeboo (724305) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:51PM (#28035217)
    Take that, Americium!
    • Re:I always knew it (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:18PM (#28035409)

      The metal americium becomes superconducting at temperatures as high as 0.79 K ...
      Submitted on February 13, 1978

      Superconductivity of Americium [sciencemag.org]

    • by syousef (465911)

      Take that, Americium!

      Governor Schwartz, when asked for comment said "Youu continant sizzed eloments think you're all thaat? Califooornia is just one state and we haf an eloment named after ous"

      • Take that, Americium!

        Governor Schwartz, when asked for comment said "Youu continant sizzed eloments think you're all thaat? Califooornia is just one state and we haf an eloment named after ous"

        You should have tried someone from Copenhagen.... they have Hafnium, and they are just a city. Don't know any toughies from there, though ;)

        • by syousef (465911)

          You should have tried someone from Copenhagen.... they have Hafnium, and they are just a city. Don't know any toughies from there, though ;)

          Yes, but they don't have a T-1000 running the place!

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Svartormr (692822)

            T-1000?!? Damn, we'd put a T-800 in there and now Skynet's gone and substituted our substitute!

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by myrrdyn (562078)

          Take that, Americium!

          Governor Schwartz, when asked for comment said "Youu continant sizzed eloments think you're all thaat? Califooornia is just one state and we haf an eloment named after ous"

          You should have tried someone from Copenhagen.... they have Hafnium, and they are just a city. Don't know any toughies from there, though ;)

          Think of Ytterby, Sweden. A village with 3 (three!!!) elements named from it: terbium, erbium and ytterbium ( see here [wikipedia.org])

  • I wonder, Europium being quite heavy and with radioactive isotopes, what pressure till you reach critical mass?

    How many elements -could- be superconductors but due to their critical mass pressure being lower than their superconductivity pressure, can't be?

    • by wfstanle (1188751)

      I am not a nuclear physicist but I do understand some of the principles concerning critical mass.

      Critical mass isn't a simple number. There are a lot of variables such as the shape of the object. In simple terms, it centers about the loss of neutrons from a fissionable object. If there are more neutrons lost than is needed to sustain a chain reaction critical mass will not be achieved. The point is that a very long and narrow object (a cable) has a very high surface area (as compared to a sphere). Much

    • by dhTardis (1326285)

      I wonder, Europium being quite heavy and with radioactive isotopes, what pressure till you reach critical mass?

      What makes you think that europium has a critical mass in the first place? It's actually considered a detriment to (controlled) nuclear reactions. Everything has radioactive isotopes, but very few have fissionable isotopes. And europium is lighter than, say, gold anyway.

    • I wonder, Europium being quite heavy and with radioactive isotopes, what pressure till you reach critical mass?

      Neither of those qualities implies that Europium will fission.

      As a minimum, it requires an isotope that emits neutrons, plus a large enough neutron-capture cross section. Neither of which Europium has.

      So the answer is, if you can squeeze it hard enough (say, pressures similar to the core of the Sun), it might fuse (absorbing a moderately enormous amount of energy in the process), but otherwise,

  • Make me a cable! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cvtan (752695)
    Bernd T. Matthias, the famous scientist who worked on superconductivity for many years, would have said, "Make me a cable!". This implies that if the material can't be formed into a wire, you can't do much in the way of practical power transfer. I suspect there isn't enough Europium in the Universe to do anything useful.
  • From the article: "The researchers then cooled europium down to about 1.8 kelvins (â"271.35Â Celsius), a frigid temperature near absolute zero. At pressures around 80 gigapascals, or about 800,000 times the pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea level, europium lost its magnetism. Electrons could flow freely through the metal without resistance." The closest thing the average person could conceive (or at least myself) in a) Pressure and b) freeze capability / something involving lasers? woul

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