Scientists look with suspicion as another study claims room-temperature superconductor

Creating a room-temperature superconductor could be life-changing.
Sejal Sharma
LK-99, the room temperature superconductor
LK-99, the room temperature superconductor


Superconductors are the future. The idea of superconductors felicitating levitating trains and quantum computers running at a breakneck speed has been floating around for some time. But for over a century, researchers have been unable to make them work except under extreme conditions like very low temperatures and remarkably high pressures.

But in a development that is creating a lot of buzz, and at the same time a bit of suspicion from the scientific community, a team of Korean researchers have claimed that they have created a superconductor capable of conducting electricity perfectly at room temperature and ambient pressure.

It's unclear if the study is peer-reviewed

The new lead-based material, called LK-99, was made using several powdered compounds like lead, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus. The team then heated them at a high temperature for several hours, which made the powders chemically react and transform into a dark gray solid form.

If the claims of the study are confirmed, then it would not only be the first superconductor to function at room temperature but also the first to not require enormous pressures to work.

“The superconductivity of LK-99 originates from minute structural distortion by a slight volume shrinkage (0.48 %), not by external factors such as temperature and pressure… The unique structure of LK-99 that allows the minute distorted structure to be maintained in the interfaces is the most important factor that LK-99 maintains and exhibits superconductivity at room temperatures and ambient pressure,” noted the researchers.

Why is this such a big deal?

Superconductors, simply put, are materials through which electricity can move without encountering any resistance, and would significantly cut down the energy costs of electronics. They are primarily employed for creating powerful electromagnets in MRI scanners, but their applications are also seen in particle accelerators, transportation, computing, generators, electric motors, and the medical industry.

While scientists are excited about the potential implications of lead-based material in various technologies, previous research claiming room-temperature superconductivity has been disputed and debunked by other researchers. Interesting Engineering reported on the same earlier.

Ji-Hoon Kim, the lead author of the study, said that he is very much aware of the skepticism, in an interview with New Scientist. He also said that other researchers should try to replicate his team’s work to settle the issue.

If this latest discovery is proven, there will likely be a new technological revolution in transportation, energy infrastructure, and just about every other industry.

In a tweet thread, Alex Kaplan, a Princeton physics graduate, explains the far-reaching consequences of the new development.

Because they require extremely low temperatures, the use of superconductors in handling electrical power is still limited. Despite decades of intense research efforts, a state where superconductivity enables lossless electricity transmission at high voltages is yet to be realized.

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