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Bell Labs Creates Plastic Superconductor 126

Posted by timothy
from the cheap-everything-soon? dept.
hoffmanm8 writes "Extending AT&T's grasp on every convieable non-software tech thing, scientists @ Bell Labs have found a way to make a plastic superconductor. (NYTimes, requires free registration). This could be pretty cool/scary unless, of course, the plastic superconductor is to the early 2000's as 'cold fusion' was to the late 20th Century."
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Bell Labs Creates Plastic Semiconductor

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  • And while you're at it "conceivable"

    and now off to read the story...
  • Try http://archive.nytimes.com/2001/03/08/science/08SU PE.html [nytimes.com]. (Replace the `www' with `archive'. `Partners' doesn't work any more.)
  • Plastic solar cells already wrap around yacht booms (I know, I know, critical application, yadda yadda yadda, but if selling luxury items drives down the cost of useful stuff, so be it). Flexible electronics might mean a hat-brim display that survives being sat on, programmable jersey numbers for sportsmen, a TV that you unroll and hang on the wall/projector-screen-stand, and finally to useful stuff like truly wearable computers, rolled-up satellite in-a-can, stick-on intelligent medical monitors, electronics that survive vibration and impacts better (process control, remote sensing, satellites, even mobile 'phones that you can, enraged, safely hurl at the pavement...), ``sensi-peril'' windscreens (ie automatically darken just the spot around the oncoming headlights), and so on.
  • In space, where solar panels don't deface the landscape, and don't require precious earthbound resources to make, and beam it down with microwaves (whose receiving antennae can be blended in to any of a number of other structures).

    A pity that NASA's recent budget cuts just canned testing of the vehicles necessary to do this. Complain to your poltician if you care.
  • /me slaps you around a bit with a wet trout.
  • What advantages, exactly, will plastic semiconductors have over our current system?
  • it's my understanding that at&t built their own labs division again....

    is this not the case?

    Peter
  • i'll bite on this.

    yes, the term plastic at its original definition certainly was an adjective, not a noun, but as in all things, meanings become overloaded or change as society changes.

    i think it's safe to say that at this time in our culture in the *united states* (i make no claims to understand any other culture), plastic is both an adjective AND a noun, like it or not. (it's not like you'll ever change the masses on this one anyway)

    just my 0.02.

    Peter
  • maybe alan macdiarmid? he's at penn, in the chemistry department (and somehow connected with the lrsm, the building across the street from me) and he just won the nobel prize in chemistry for plastics that are conductors, or some such thing (i am not a chemist).

    - pal
  • Which is it? Semiconductor or superconductor (can't be bothered getting an NYT login to check)?
  • Yep, when they were under AT&T control, Bell Labs haven't inovated a lot.

    (fiber optics, comms satellites, transistor, unix, c, cellular phone networks, ...)
    (and just a few nobel prizes)
  • Plastic is a desciption of a quality of a material, not a description of composition.

    A material is plastic if it can undergo plastic deformation - ie, it doesn't bouce back to its original shape when bent/twisted (opposite of elastic deformation)

    There is no proviso that a plastic be made from hydrocarbons - however, most hydrocarbon compounds tend to have good plastic properties.

    Russ %-)

  • Bell Labs is part of Lucent

  • The article states the proposed benefits.

    Basically R&D is a Good Thing (Tm). There are many benfits to having a polymeric superconductor-- why? Because, as you may know, superconductors have not been widely accepted for practial applications... part of the reason for this is that all High-temp superconductors are brittle ceramics, but a polymer is highly formable and moldable.

    If you can perhaps learn something about poymeric-based superconductors... then maybe you can finally get the wonderful benefits of resistance-less conduction to be practical.
  • Actually we do have the means of making diesel fuel from a renewable resource. It's called Bio-Diesel, and it's created from the oil of soy crops. I don't have a link handy, but it's out there all over. In fact there is a van I think the drove clear across the US on nothing but the stuff.
  • by ASCIIMan (47627)
    One atom, supercooled, superconducting, cold fusion powered computers, coming to your inkjet printer today!
  • How big are these 'small' reactors?

    If they were under the size of a bucket, then you could say bye bye to your PC power supply and use water to power your PC (300W), Monitor (100W), and various expansion devices.

    Of course, this ain't much use if a small reactor is bigger than a house.

    Oh, and in traditional sarcastic Slashdot fashion, I'll believe it when I see it! :-)

  • Sayeth the article:
    But plastics are easier and cheaper to make and sculpt than other materials, so the achievement may eventually lead to some applications, including components for future computers that use quantum mechanical calculations.

    I Am Not A Layperson, and I am not aware that anyone knows anything about how to construct a quantum mechanical computer.


    Sounds more to me like a journalist who likes to spice up their writing with pseudoscience.


    But, now that cancer is getting more and more curable, maybe quantum computing will become the new universal justification for grantwriting?

  • > Ceramics on the other hand, are made up of materials which make up 20% of the earth's crust...

    With what shall we make the energy to melt the earths crust into ceramics? Surely not fossil fuels. Nukes? Wind?
  • Someone will correct me if I'm wrong but since plastic polymers tend to follow a thread-like structure (which gives them the flexibility, strength, etc) instead of the more common crystalline formations of other known superconducting materials, wouldn't that lessen their usefulness at any temps colder than your suggestion of liquid nitrogen?

    I would assume that a lot of the benefits from plastic would be negated by the temperatures necessary to superconduct... since the threaded polymer structure would be frozen past any point of flexibility as well as being structurally weaker then the crystalline alternatives in a rigid state. So, even if you can mold the material easier, once in superconducting environments you lose a large portion of the very reasons why you wanted plastic in the first place.

    The other metal-like materials can still run at warmer temps, would be able to deal with a higher resistance to breakage/warping, and can also be molded into wires, albeit not as easily (which you stated and I agree on). That really only leaves cost factors...

    I still don't see the point... unless they can significantly increase the temp at which plastic superconducts in some manner which I highly doubt given the very conducting-resistant nature of plastic itself!

    Like I said, anything that can conduct electricity at some minute level could superconduct under optimal conditions. The hard part is finding stuff that will do so in conditions that neither negate the efficiency gains of superconducting (environment control too high etc) nor limit the usefulness & adaptability of the superconducting material itself.

    So far, the other metal-like stuff is way ahead in those regards.
  • Fossil fuels are the end result of the breakdown of biomass over time. Biomass meaning living stuff. Meaning as long as we have life on earth we will have a renewing supply of fossil fuels. The only limiting factor of this resource is the amount of.. uh.. processed(?) fuel... and the length of the processing.

    Just think of it as a really slow drive-thru. You know the burger's are coming out eventually but in the meantime you could starve to death if you ran out of rogue french fries on the floor.

    Hmm.. That's gotta be the weirdest analogy for conservation I've ever seen. Yep, I am having a stupid day after all :)
  • I knew I'd find a use for all of those Publix plastic grocery bags I've been hoarding in the pantry.
    A few gallons of liquid hydrogen, and I'll have those grocery bags setup as a beowolf cluster rendering pictures of Natalie Portman, floating nude in a sea of hot grits in no time.
  • Hello, the companies split years ago. AT&T gains no hold over anything due to this.
  • Oh! And I should add that there is electrical flow without resistance in a superconductor - or at least very negligible resistance. Materials incluce certain metals, allows, and ceramics at temperatures near absolute zero, and in some cases at very high temperatures.

  • You forgot: All your superconductors are belong to us.

    :-)
  • I'm thinking that the advantage would be in the molding process. You draw into wire at 250 degrees Farenheit. You wrap it around the core at room temperature. Once you've gotten your 10-gazillion loops of the plastic stuff to make your nifty supermagnet, you drop it into the ice bath (read: liquid nitro) and it starts to superconduct. You can't do that with the ceramics.
  • www10.nytimes.com/2001/03/08/science/08SUPE.html [nytimes.com] (just has a '10' in there)
  • Bravo!
    I nearly todded the whole story without looking at it.
    Dell and Hewlett Packard are both computer companies - oh and Amana makes microwave ovens right?
    Let's all just use them interchangibly and try and maintain meaning.

    Honestly though, this really didn't rate as a news item. Strikes me as a "Man bites dog" story.
  • Nope read your physics book again. As the universe gets older entropy will increase the disorganization of the universe. Also, modern Physics seems to show that we are in an "Open Universe", or a "Flat Uninverse." In either case the Universe will keep expamding forever, give or take a few 100 trillion years. :)

    When you spread a finite amount of energy over a expanding volume the energy density will decrease, or in other words, it will get colder.

    A prime analogy is Slashdot itself. As a discussion increases in age the number of useless, uninformed, or ignorant posts such as yours increase to the point where a the whole thing in completely disorganized.

    And BTW if you are indeed an Anonymous Coward then why bother signing your name "dufus?"

    Later
    Mick D.
  • Yes, I try to get all my science from games and cartoons.

  • Hey no, don't make your high technology dependent on an organic superconductor! That just makes it easy for aliens to subvert your civilization with an engineered bacterium that eats it.

    Oh go on, mod me up for a Ringworld reference!

  • What happened to the company in texas that claimed cold fusion in 95. It seems they dropped off the face of the earth can anyone post what happened with them as I must have returned to my rock around that time and did not emerge until after the dust settled.
  • single atom transistors? Ohh....
  • a "mole" of molecules can weigh up to...Damn, I can't remember, and I can't find it either, I believe it's several tons, anybody know?

    Ramex® [symplastics.com] is an Ultrahigh Molecular Weight Polyethylene having a molecular weight range between 3 and 6 million.

    So 6 million grams = 6.613867865546328 US Tons

    So "several" was a good estimate :)
  • Of course, although 'Cold Fusion' did not seem to turn out to be any form of fusion, it is still a viable energy source, with small 'reactors' capable of creating 500 W of useful energy from water.

    Now, the question is will we see the same thing with plastic superconductors? And even more important: What temperature do they have to be to superconduct?
  • I do remember one particular item featured on Beyond 2000's precursor show, 'Towards 2000'.

    You may have seen them around - small disc thingies made of plastic with lots of tiny holes in them. Store music on them, and read it off with a laser. All very fancy. I think Phillips had something to do with it.

  • Here's the next utility killer app:

    Hollow fiberoptic strands using dielectric mirrors to transmit light without loss in the strand cavity, wrapped in superconducting plastic to transmit electricity without loss.
  • Nope, but jupiter might have some metallic hydrogen [llnl.gov]
  • Ummm... last I checked you had to go to Jupiter to get liquid hydrogen. Has this changed recently?
  • ...which just so happens to be LIQUID. It also has lots more nonmetallic liquid hydrogen.
  • Bell Labs [bell-labs.com] is owned by Lucent, not AT&T. You can by the coffee stain in the upper-right corner of their webpage.
  • >This could be pretty cool/scary unless, of >course, the plastic superconductor is to the >early 2000's as 'cold fusion' was to the late >20th Century." Oh great!!!! Another weak plot for a Val Kilmer movie!(i.e. The Saint) Correct me if I'm wrong but that's about all that happened, scary or otherwise, with cold fusion in the 20th century.
  • A plastic superconductor is cool, yes, but 'scary?' I can see how something like infinitely scalable quantum computers might be a little scary, simply because of the potentially mind-boggling computing power and the fundamental changes that would follow. A plastic superconductor -- a different twist on an existing technology -- doesn't baffle me with possibilities. All I can see are the cool potentials, like flexible superconductive cabling, or the cost of manufacturing superconductors being low enough to offset their maintenance (i.e., keeping 'em cold).
  • uh, nobody is thriving right now...doesn't mean lucent isn't doing better than Bell would be if it was still AT&T right now.
  • Ça plane pour moi, moi moi moi moi !
    Uhuhuuuuh !
  • Liquid HELIUM.
  • Enough already...must we "Imagine a Beowulf cluster" of every damn new technology that apears in Slashdot?
  • Right - AT&T's lab is called, creatively, "AT&T Labs". Lucent's lab is "Bell Labs" Dave
  • Will any of us ever see plastic semiconductors in use?

    Given that plastic semiconductors are already in use, the answer to your question is, "yes".
    If you mean plastic superconductors, the answer to your question is still, "yes".

    Quantum computers?

    Yes.

    How about space elevators?!

    Given the big bag of cheesies that I just polished off and the party-sized SunChips® that I'm currently eyeing, I probably won't live long enough to see space elevators. But if we have any five-year-olds reading /., they might.

    -deane
    Gooroos Software: plugging you in to Maya

  • You mean I can finaly get peril-sensitive sunglasses?
  • I don't know what the advantage to a plastic semiconductor is, would someone explain?
  • Did anyone ever see that Australian tv show Beyond 2000? So many wonderful inventions they showed. How many of those are you using today?
    Slashdot is just like Beyond 2000. Will any of us ever see plastic semiconductors in use? Quantum computers? How about space elevators?!
    You may now return to reality.
  • If my memory is correct, someone even got a Nobel Prize for doing this several years ago..

  • Perhaps youse all are refering to the Proper Use bit in the following [lego.com]. Couldn't really care, myself, they've always been referred to as 'Legos' for the sake of brevity, rather than to slavishly adhering to the wishes of Lego (in the same manner as 'Fords' rather than 'automobiles of Ford Motor Division manufacture') Thanks for pointing out my error, but now I'll return to my borish ways, so's I don't get thrown out of parties for sucking the life out of them.

    BTW You probably don't want to see this [slashdot.org] either. And we's USers, not USians.

    --

  • Imagine a Beowulf cluster of credit cards made of this.

    --

  • You get thrown out of parties in the US for saying Lego instead of Legos? That's harsh...

    No, you just get funny looks, which translate to thoughts in the observers head "memo: probably shouldn't invite this person ever again."

    If you go into detail on the proper use of LEGO as an adjective, rather than plural noun, you get concerned looks, which translate to thoughts of "memo: Never, ever, under any circumstances invite this person to a party ever again."

    OTOH, If you utter such clever contrivances as, "Imagine a Beowulf cluster of overclocked superconductor Legos doing THIS" and then having a seizure, you are virtually guaranteed admiring looks of approval and a spot on the "A" list.

    --

  • Pulp fiction refers to cheap nickel serials published on shitty paper ("pulp").

    I would actually think that "Any operating system sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from BeOS" would be more appropriate. Linux is, sadly, the last thing I think of when I think "advanced" or "magic." I mean, its inspiration was Minix, and frankly, other than (a lot of) hardware drivers and some added necessary POSIX system calls, it hasn't really advanced much beyond that. The only real plus for Linux is that it is open source. Now, a completely modular, modern day operating system like BeOS, open sourced, with plenty of drivers and software... Mmmmm.

  • I have read Timeline and, while an amusing story, I would almost rather refer someone to Tom Clancy's Net Force Night Moves than to Michael Crichton's Timeline, because, at least in Tom Clancy's Net Force Night Moves, the author (not Tom Clancy), tries, but fails (miserably), to correctly explain the concept and practical uses of quantum computing, where as Mr. Crichton seems consigned to writing it off as some kind of magic with a minimal of research and a sprinkling of irrelevant buzz-words to make it seem "real" (reality being something he has apparently lost touch with long ago).

    In any event, here [bangor.ac.uk] is a decent beginner's explanation of quantum computing. It can easily be read in less time than Timeline, although arguably less entertaining, if you're into sword-fighting.

  • I didnt create these, but if you don't have a login for the New York Times site, use these: l: slashdot2001 p: slashdot2001 i believe l/p "slashdot2000" also works. Hope this helps.
  • Is the article about superconductors or semiconductors? There is a big difference.

    Naw, not really. Consider:

    Super Man
    aka The Man of Steel. An alien humanoid who wore blue and red and kicked the bejeezus out of the bad guys.

    Semi Man
    aka Optimus Prime. Made of steel. An alien robot who wore blue and red and kicked the bejeezus out of the bad guys.

  • I seem to remember something like this being posted before...let me think...ahh yes http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/01/31/035323 4&mode=thread [slashdot.org]
  • Hey thanks a lot, I don't feel so dumb now, and thats generally a good thing!! :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    While a comment farther down describes ceramics as 'making up x% of the world's surface' the fact is that the particular ceramics that are showing promise for high temperature superconductors are not at all common - they're expensive and difficult to draw into wires. Plastic superconductors might have promise (solving the wire and the cost issue), but only if the temperature can be increased - at least to the temp of liquid nitrogen. The interesting part of this is that it does represent superconduction in carbon based molecules. Not sure if that has been seen before.
  • Bell Labs (now Lucent) show that breaking up a monopoly won't destroy innovation as Steve Ballmer will try to tell you. If anything, Bell Labs is more productive today than it was thirty years ago, when it was still trying to figure out how to rig statistics to show why it was economically unfeasible for consumers to own their own telephones. If you break a company up into little bits as AT&T was (and as Microsoft should be), then the innovative bits will thrive.
  • No, you have misremembered. Hydrogen liquefies at roughly 30K at 1 atmosphere, and liquid hydrogen is used as a rocket fuel (the shuttle external tank is mostlyu full of liquid hydrogen, for instance).

    If you want to liquefy hydrogen at room temperature then you do need rather extreme pressures, such as those found in Jupiter. In fact, Jupiter is big enouygh (probably) to squeeze hydrogen into a liquid metallic state, which is really interesting. A liquid of protons in a sea of electrons.
  • Oddly enough, some fossil fuel reserves (to the confusion of the geologists involved) do actually self-replenish, existing reserves useable for plastics (coal/oil shale etc) are truly staggering anyway, and finally, you can make coal in the lab in less than half an hour from agricultural byproducts, so doing it industrially at reasonable cost can soon be made viable if need be.
  • Uh, Lucent isn't exactly thriving (despite the discovery) .. the building I used to work in is getting layoffs every Thursday now.
  • A few people are saying "What's this good for? Why do we need this?"

    Very few things are discovered on purpose - think the Light Bulb versus Becquerel and atomic energy. If they had discovered some neato trick that would let you turn old tupperware into a PC, people would say "Why aren't we researching more?"

    So don't complain about the lack of use in research projects. The farther a scientist reaches to find an answer, the more likely he'll discover something that we *will* be able to use.
  • Well, to be nitpicky, the ideal superconductor would also remain superconducting up to above the temperatures of a jet engine. Possibly switchably (though that might be a bit dangerous). And would support high current densities (i.e., resistant to having superconductivity surpressed by magnetic fields ... though in that case how do you switch it without literally breaking the circuit).

    O, and it would also be cheap, easy to make, reasonably stable, but not environmentally persistant, indigestible to bacteria while in solid form. Soluable in, o, say anhydrous ethyl ether (not benzene ... I want my desires to avoid polutants). etc.


    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • One problem with all of these articles from the NYTimes (other than having to register, GRRRR) is that they don't always seem to know what they are talking about in the Engineering fields (of course the Washington Post is no better if not worse).

    They seems to imply that the superconducting effect is created by applying a field effect to the polymer chain. Then right after that they instead imply that it is just forming a FET (type of transistor). Not much clarity.

    If they did form a superconductor through field effect (created a superconducting channel in the FET) then the possibilities are interesting. The temprature may rise faster than rare earths and conventionals, but unless the effect is self forming when current is applied its application may be limited. Also, as in all FETs the carrying of current may pinch off the circuit causing a very low critical current (ordrs of magnitude lower than other types of superconductors).
    I'll wait and see what Science News has to say about it next week.
  • Who wrote that title? Is the article about superconductors or semiconductors? There is a big difference.

    --Ben

  • I understood Moores law* as applying to conventional silicon-based transistor circuits, not to other technologies like quantum computers. If thats the case then Moore's "law" has held up pretty well so far.

    * Yes I know its not a law in the conventional scientific sense.

  • We can manufacture oil from any combination of things containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. It's just not worth the expense because the stuff is just sitting around waiting to be pumped out of the ground.

    Most of that expense is energy. If the "fossil" fuels run out (some scientists believe that it was formed with the Earth, and there is such a vast supply that it is practically infinite, as the rock supply is), we'll switch to nuclear energy, whether fission or fusion, which will be so much cheaper and more plentiful that such expenses will be affordable (current fission is too expensive primarily because it is constantly held back for political reasons).

    IOW, the faster we run out of oil the better, if you ask me.

    At any rate, none of the current electronics technology will be relevant after a few decades, so only short-term pricing matters. You don't need to guess at supplies of raw materials a hundred years from now.
    ---
  • So this steel wire I'm holding is plastic? I can bend it, and it stays bent. Smells like plastic deformation to me.

    Yes. Steel wire is plastic when bent past its critical point. Glad to see you're catching on :-) It is elastic when the deforming force is small.

    Or perhaps you don't realize that most people use the term "plastic" to mean "polymer".

    Thats exactly what I do realise, and what I was trying to impress upon the madding throng. Most people use the term plastic incorrectly, by using "plastic" to refer to a large group of hydrocarbon based long chain polymer solids commonly found in drink bottles, etc. It doesn't. The term "Plastic" is a property, not a material; an adjective, not a noun.

    People who use the term "plastic" don't mean "polymer" either. The term "polymer" doesn't mean what you seem to think it does; a polymer is a ANY material which forms long repetitive chains of identical molecular groups. Again, Hydrocarbons tend to form nice polymers, but they are by no means the ONLY molecules that form polymers.

    Drink bottles, etc, are made of a hydrocarbon based polymer which have the property of being plastic; however, this is a _VERY_ small subset of the materials which are 1) plastic, 2) polymers, or 3) both.

    The NY Times article doesn't go into enough detail about the composition of Polythiophene to make any specific comments about its molecular composition; but the fact that it is a plastic polymer does not require that it is in any way related to the "plastic" in a drink bottle, nor that it will require hydrocarbons and crude oil to create said "plastic superconductor".

    BTW, do linguistic semantics give you a woody? I'm just wondering.

    Yes. They do. The English language is a beautiful thing, and there are so many enormously precise ways of expressing exactly what you mean. It seems a waste to restrict yourself to the lowest common denominator of grunts and bellows.

    Russ %-)

  • Batlogg's group is amazing. A few months ago they demonstrated the first crystalline organic laser and first crystalline (not plastic) organic superconductor. As it says in the article, people have been trying to do this stuff for 20-30 years.

    They've also made efficient solar cells, very good (comparable to Si) field-effect transistors. They've achieved more in this field (organic conductors) in the last year or so than all other researchers in the field have done in the last five (and there's been a lot of very good work in the last few years).

  • You claim that "[fusion] leaves no nasty reminants[sic]". I'm not sure what you mean. Obviously, the reactor parts will be bombarded with high energy neutrons for the duration of its service life. Tons of radioactive cement and steel sure sounds like nasty remnants to me... BTW, its spelled tokamak or tokomak (either is permissible). -Ryan
  • So this steel wire I'm holding is plastic? I can bend it, and it stays bent. Smells like plastic deformation to me.

    Or perhaps you don't realize that most people use the term "plastic" to mean "polymer".

    BTW, do linguistic semantics give you a woody? I'm just wondering.

    -Ryan
  • And when again did researchers at Bell Labs achieve Cold Fusion? Oh, I see, you're just confusing reality with too many pulp Sci Fi novels.
  • No, no, no. If you read the article, you'd realize they've created a plastic train conductor. It's all part of ATT's plan to duplicate the fanciful world of the Beatles "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".

  • It is superconductor, not semiconductor. Plastic semiconductors are already here [opticomasa.com]
  • You said: TOMAHOK

    But do you mean TOKAMAK?

  • It may be that plastic is easier to make than some ceramic materials, but plastic is made from fossil fuels, which are a limited resource. Ceramics on the other hand, are made up of materials which make up 20% of the earth's crust...
  • for the the Fisher Price semiconductor

    "Just in time for X-mas, My First semiconductor play set, only from Fisher Pri.....


    ________

  • Bell Labs got divested to Lucent when AT&T spun them off. So unless there is some portion of Bell Labs I don't know about (conceivable) Lucent would be the company responsible here.
  • Nah, leave it... lets watch and see how may comments about semiconductor get modded up +1 Insightfull!
  • Okay, since you asked. I work for Professor Heeger. He started a company called UNIAX [uniax.com] back in 1990 to work on these materials (sorry about the website, it hasn't been updated in a while - not because of me though). DuPont (a *very* large company) purchased us last year. Other big companies working on these things are Philips, Pioneer, Covion (a spinoff of Hoechst AG), AGFA (they use conductive polymers in their photographic film to keep static from building up in their roll to roll processing). I believe that Sony is working on them too, but I'm not sure.

    As well, there are smaller companies such as Cambridge Display Technologies (who just got a large, but undisclosed, investment last year) in the UK, and Universal Display Corporation in Princeton, NJ that are doing some very good work as well.

    I didn't mention these things in my original post as it seemed too much like namedropping. But remember, you asked.

  • to start overclocking my Legos...

    --

  • Um, no. The advantage of being a monopoly is that the company can absorb the risk involved in abstract/theoretical research: if the research lab doesn't create an immediately saleable product, the company won't go under. As a result, Bell's phone monopoly gave us valuable research into operating system structure (UNIX) and packet switched networking (TCP/IP for one). Other research led to conceptual breakthroughs in hypertext indexing systems well before hypercard or the WWW (things like "Superbook" and "WebBook" are closer to Ted Nelson's vision than Berners-Lee's). Similarly, Xerox's position as copy machine leader allowed it to foray into computer research leading to the developments at PARC, centering around ethernet and the modern mouse and CRT based GUI. And regardless of my feelings for Microsoft, their research facilities are some of the best in the world (read some of their RFC's on 3d user interface design). So tech company monopolies can have some benefits, even though they aren't immediately obvious to the consumer.
  • by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Friday March 09, 2001 @03:12AM (#375138) Homepage
    As it stands, lead is almost certainly a better choice of superconductor, since both require liquid helium coolant and the plastic is probably more expensive. The point, however is that this opens the door to a new kind of superconductor. the first metallic superconductor was mercury at roughly 1K, we eventually got up to wierd (and expansive) alloys that superconduct at about 30K (liquid hydrogen coolant could be used).

    The first ceramic superconductors worked only at 30 or 40 K, but we quickly got up to over 100K. Unfortunately, they're murder to form into wires, or anything else useful.

    Now this group has opened the door, we can expect many more superconducting polymers. The ideal result would be one that is easy to make and form, and can carry high currents or operate in high magnetic fields and liquid nitrogen temperatures.

    Even if that is not achieved this new class of superconductors might have interesting or useful properties.
  • by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @10:10PM (#375139) Homepage
    Nice troll.

    The former poster is correct. We can manufacture plastics from basic elements, it is simply cheaper to pump oil out of the ground. As for making gasoline from raw elements, it is currently not (nor do I believe it ever will be) practical.

    At the current time there are genetically engineered bacteria that can create basic plastics. You can grow these bacteria and have plastic as a by-product. Merely refine the plastic and alter it to your purpose.

    Now, someone is going to argue that we don't have that technology yet or some such. I am willing to bet that we most likely do, but again, it makes no economic sense to do so with oil being cheaper from the ground.
  • by Amoeba (55277) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @07:23PM (#375140)
    At 4 degrees above absolute zero, and the "higher" temp metals having a head-start in refinement/research etc, what do you see as compelling reasons to use plastic? Cost of material? flexibility? The temp difference is fairly significant and I'm just not seeing the point other the geek-factor.

    I mean, given the way superconducting works, at some point you can make almost any material capable of passing electrical energy...

    I must be having a stupid day.

  • by Wire Tap (61370) <frisina@atlanticbb.FREEBSDnet minus bsd> on Thursday March 08, 2001 @07:25PM (#375141)
    What advantages, exactly, will plastic semiconductors have over our current system?

    Re-read the story... it is talking about a plastic SUPERconductor - quite different from a semi-conductor.

    A semiconductor is a device that has electrical conductivity greater than insulators, but less than good conductors (IE: the stuff that CPUs are made of), whereas a superconductor is something with very high electrical conductivity.

  • by Mick D. (89018) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @07:46PM (#375142) Homepage Journal
    Think about this way. In few trillion years 4 degrees above absolute zero will be well above room temperature and all our dreams will be answered. :)
  • by bartyboy (99076) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @07:22PM (#375143)
    Lego set #10892

    Maglev train set, 6 figures, 12 feet of superconducting tracks. $4,999.99. Some assembly required.

    (I'll take two, please.)
  • by jeffwolfe (127324) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @07:15PM (#375144)
    Bell Labs went with Lucent Technologies when it spun off from AT&T in 1996.
  • Personally, I think I'll live to see Moore's Law get sent to /dev/null with things like "Man will not fly" and "Man will never walk on the moon"*.

    With the extensive probing into quantum machinery**, the question is, "How soon will it be that processors create their own dimension to perform advanced mathematical calculations. The question is, "When will be using planck's width to record data rather than Fe-Si combinates?" The question is, "Will the term 'wireless' come to mean that a small quantum bridge is created by the computer to read the data on another computer atoms?"
    Or, one of my friend's favourite questions: Will a molecule count as a network?
    You can keep your one atom transistors, I'm waiting for the chance to upgrade to a 2 1 H isotope!***

    *No replies on the one-sided Fox special, please
    **This has actually been around for a few years already, and has been mentioned on slashdot a few times, as well as making it to Michael Crichton's "Timeline", as a background to the ideas conveyed in the story.
    ***Don't tell me not to hold my breath, that, too, is another AnonCow-esk comment
  • by Preston Pfarner (14687) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @07:41PM (#375146)
    Editor, please fix the title on this article.

    At the moment, it "Bell Labs Creates Plastic
    Semiconductor". However, both the Slashdot
    article and (more significantly) the NYTimes
    article refer to plastic superconductors.

    It should be something along the lines of:

    "Bell Labs Creates Plastic Superconductor"
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @09:01PM (#375147) Journal
    Remember, whe you want to go to the NYT site, use the word channel anstead of WWW

    http://channel.nytimes.com/2001/03/08/science/08SU PE.html [nytimes.com]

    now of course, Lucent [lucent.com] has a website, with the press release here [lucent.com]. The page with photos of the team can be found here [bell-labs.com] on the bell labs site.

    As Usual, the story was first reported in NATURE [nature.com] (NOTE - free registration gives some access, paid registration gives more)

  • by lmaali (204965) on Thursday March 08, 2001 @08:26PM (#375148)
    As someone who works in the field of conjugated (conducting/semiconducting) polymers, I have to say that this is actually very exciting news. /.ers tend to cast a cynical eye over scientific breakthroughs that won't turn into actual products by 5 PM tomorrow, but examine this for its scientific value and perhaps you will appreciate it more.

    The capabilities of conjugated polymers are expanding at a great rate, perhaps because of the backing that R&D is now getting from some VERY large companies. This is especially true since the founders of the field received the recent Nobel Prize in Chemistry (I'll admit to being biased as one of them is my boss).

    The promise of these materials is more that of lighter and cheaper than anything else at this point. That may change in the near future though. It's not that they are better materials that those that are in use now, but rather the fact that they are perhaps a bit easier and cheaper to process, relatively inexpensive to make, and perhaps more suited to particular applications. For example, there are groups working on making emissive displays out of semiconducting polymers. If you can make them on a plastic substrate rather than glass, you have a display that you don't have to worry about breaking when you drop your laptop/handheld/cellphone. Now, if we can make one that is easier to see in the sunlight and gives you longer battery life, those are pluses as well.

    As far as the superconductors go, we were sure it would happen someday as one of the primary excitations of these materials is what is called a bipolaron. It's basically a Cooper Pair in a conjugated polymer (Cooper Pairs being that thing that makes ceramic superconductors do their thing). The primary problem was getting the polymers to order, or line up, properly. So now it's been done. Yes, it's at a very cold temperature, but all of the first traditional superconductors were down there pretty far too.

    By the way, remember that guy who figured out how to make the laser? He didn't know what to do with it at first either. It didn't take too long before it gave people ideas...

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