Superconductor craze continues as scientists demand proof

Reports also suggest that LK-99 does not display zero resistance until at ultra-low temperatures.
Ameya Paleja
Stock image of a superconductor material at ultra low temperatures
Stock image of a superconductor material at ultra low temperatures

Peter Hansen/iStock 

The craze about the superconductor LK-99 has spilled from the internet to stock markets in China and South Korea, Reuters reported. Prices of certain stocks have spiked even as scientific community members remain skeptical and have demanded more proof from their peers before accepting claims.

The hype around the new material has remained a trending topic on X, formerly known as Twitter. It has also occupied two spots in the top 10 items on Hacker News, a site dedicated to news about computer science and entrepreneurship. It has forced researchers to dump the slow grind of publication and take to social media instead to share their new findings about it.

Take, for instance, this innocuous clip shared by researchers with The New York Times but has garnered nearly two million views in less than 24 hours that it has been shared on X.

Why is LK-99 interesting?

Last week, several South Korean researchers released two papers on a pre-print server claiming that their superconductor LK-99 worked at room temperature. The papers also carried the recipe for making it, which turned out to be relatively simple - baking together a mineral made from lead with one made from copper over four days.

Superconductors already used in equipment like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners and some quantum computers require ultra-low temperatures to operate where they display properties like zero resistance.

Having a material that can achieve the same abilities at room temperature will revolutionize medical imaging or computing and electrical grids that can minimize losses and reduce emissions from power generation.

Scientists remain skeptical

The simplicity of the production process sparked many replication attempts from researchers worldwide who have taken to social media to confirm the results. Most of these showcase magnetic levitation since it is easiest to capture on camera and demonstrate. But researchers at top research institutes remain skeptical since levitation is just one aspect, and proof for other features of LK-99 as a superconductor remains elusive.

There have also been some adverse reports, with a team in China claiming that it did not observe zero resistance. At the same time, another suggested that it was observed only at temperatures as low as 110 Kelvin (-163 degree Celsius).

Mike Norman, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in the US, told Reuters that the original paper lacked sufficient data about the material's behavior over broad temperature ranges.

Superconductor craze continues as scientists demand proof
Supercomputer simulations have been used to verify LK-99 claims

Sinéad Griffin, a solid-state physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, used supercomputer simulation to verify if the baking process could make a room-temperature superconductor. While the simulation isn't a perfect science, it still states that the process would need to get many things in place that naturally do not occur for LK-99 to demonstrate capabilities that can make it the greatest invention since transistors.

It isn't necessary that the researchers purportedly made these claims while knowing the truth about the material's behavior. In material science, researchers refer to these as unidentified superconducting objects (USOs). Even highly trained scientists have been believed to have stumbled on room-temperature superconductors till further investigations reveal the truth.

For LK-99, the proof will come from more detailed investigations about various material aspects and not just levitation alone. South Korean researchers have now formed a committee to verify these claims.

Let's rely on science to bring out the truth.

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