Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance. It occurs in certain materials, called superconductors, when chilled to very cold temperatures.
What happens in those circumstances is that the electrons pair up, and begin to flow orderly without resistance. This superconductivity has the potential to make our electronics super efficient.
Luckily, it has been found in many materials so far. However, it requires expensive and bulky equipment to keep the superconductors cold enough to achieve this phenomenon. Think of MRI machines for instance.
An unexpected material
Now, physicists may have stumbled on a new type of superconductivity that may bypass these burdens. Researchers led by the University of Maryland observed superconductivity in an unexpected material.
The novel phenomenon was found to rely on entirely new electron interactions. In this particular material, called YPtBi, electrons carry a spin of 3/2 as opposed to the 1/2 seen in most superconductors.
"No one had really thought that this was possible in solid materials," physicist and senior author Johnpierre Paglione told Phys.org.
"High-spin states in individual atoms are possible, but once you put the atoms together in a solid, these states usually break apart and you end up with spin one-half. "
A strange superconductor
YPtBi seemed like a strange superconductor because it doesn't fit one of the main criteria which is being a good conductor at normal temperatures. But when cooled down, it exhibited superconductivity regardless.
To try and understand this material, researchers looked at the way it interacted with magnetic fields. What they found was that as the material warmed up from absolute zero, the degree to which a magnetic field could penetrate it increased linearly instead of exponentially.
After further analysis, the researchers speculated that the electrons must have been disguised as particles with higher spin. This phenomenon wasn't even considered a possibility for a superconductor before.
We are a long way from having electricity flows with zero resistance at room temperature as the novel type of superconductivity still requires incredibly cold temperatures for now. However, the discovery gives researchers a whole new direction to explore.
The research was published in Science Advances.