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Supercomputing Science

A New Family of High-Temperature Superconductors 113 113

sciencehabit writes to let us know that physicists are hailing the discovery of a new type of superconductor as a "major advance." The new materials could solve the biggest mystery in condensed matter physics — i.e., how and why cuprate superconductors work — as well as paving the way for practical magnetic levitation and lossless transmission of energy. "God only knows where it will go," says one Nobel Laureate. After the discovery of superconductivity in an iron-and-arsenic compound at 26 kelvin, several Chinese research groups quickly found related materials that are superconducting up to 55K. (Cuprates go as high as 138K; liquid nitrogen boils at 77K.)
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A New Family of High-Temperature Superconductors

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  • by Artuir (1226648) on Friday April 18, 2008 @12:13PM (#23118718)
    This is assuming standard pressure, of course. Any advancement in the operating temperature of a superconductor would make it easier to pressurize a system in order to bring its operating temperature up.
  • Very Hot! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by l2718 (514756) on Friday April 18, 2008 @12:18PM (#23118792)

    1. "High T_c" is a technical term. Indeed, 55 kelvin is "high" (though not as high as the record for cuprates). You have to compare it with the typical T_c for metals (a few kelvin). The difference is between liquid helium temperatures and liquid nitrogen temperatures (which cuprates have reached already and perhaps the new compounds also will).

    2. More improtantly, this will ignite a "firestorm of research". You see, we don't have a good model of high T_c superconductivity (unlike the BCS [wikipedia.org] model for metals). Having several different superconducting systems will help theorists isolate the significant features of the system from the less significant ones.

    3. Seeing superconductivity in a totally new material is exciting. This is interesting basic research even if today we dont' have a practical application. If we don't do the research we'll never get to the practical stage.

  • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@cornell.3.14edu minus pi> on Friday April 18, 2008 @12:30PM (#23118980) Homepage
    It is news not because of any new temperature records, but because of the fact that these are the first superconductors outside of the cuprate family to exhibit high critical temperatures.

    This is an entirely new family from the cuprates. The cuprates started much lower too. Also, even if this family never compares to the cuprates in performance, the behavior of this new family could shed light on the (relatively unknown) mechanisms of cuprate superconductivity, allowing for that family to be developed further.
  • by peragrin (659227) on Friday April 18, 2008 @12:53PM (#23119326)
    If you think China is a poor third world country then you are going to be shocked.
    China is mostly a second world country, isn't very poor(the USA is spending trillions there), currently is almost able to duplicate just about every technologically advanced device being built.

    there was a chinese company called NEC which duplicated the Real NEC's tv's poorly but close enough to work for several years before they got caught.

    While it will be another 5-10 years China is rapidly building up technology, science, and math. They have the manpower power and will, just like japan had 30 years ago. Remember 40 years ago the Japanese only made junk, 20 years later they owned the electronics market, and 10 years after that had some of the best selling cars out there.
  • by What Would NPH Do (1274934) on Friday April 18, 2008 @12:56PM (#23119378)

    I am more interested as to why American scientists weren't the first in on this,
    Because despite the jingoist tune, the US hasn't been the forefront of technology and science for quite some time. When you have creationists trying to ruin science education all across the country it's not that surprising.

    and why such cutting-edge research is being done in China (a poor third-world country).
    China is poor? Since when? They're raking in the dough which is why they also hold 1/3 of the US national debt. Besides, countries in Southeast Asia have been pumping out cutting edge research for years now. If you were to shed the chauvinism for a few hours you might have noticed this already.
  • by Jerf (17166) on Friday April 18, 2008 @02:04PM (#23120414) Journal

    The problem is what to do with the heat pumped out, which could damage the arctic nearby, maybe even melt the foundation. But if the total mass cooled is small (like a few dozen microchips), that byproduct heat could be used to keep some human operators alive.
    Scale, scale, scale, scale, scale. Don't let environmentalist mottos fool you; humans aren't actually "heating" the planet. By pumping large amounts of a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we are causing the planet to retain more heat. (This isn't news to environmentalists, which is why I explicitly point out that the mottos are wrong. Things tend to get simplified in their trip into the collective consciousness.)

    We're nowhere near being able to actually heat the planet to any significant degree. Run the computations on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun every day, compare with the total energy generated by humanity in a day.

    You don't need to worry about "damaging" the Antarctic by running some computers and dumping the heat out into the local environment. Heat just dissipates, and since it's at a rate proportional to the difference between the temperatures, it goes away faster the more you try. (That's the fundamental reason why we can't directly heat the planet, because even if we did, it would just radiate away.) You need to worry about the stuff that doesn't dissipate.
  • by timeOday (582209) on Friday April 18, 2008 @02:41PM (#23120892)
    Let me first say, the idea of US science "dying" is just silly. And yes, for the moment we are leading.

    Hanging on to our lead, on the other hand, is doubtful [scidev.net]: "Cited papers first-authored by Chinese scientists -- an important indicator of scientific creativity -- increased by 25.3 per cent in 2006, and the number of times they were cited increased 28.3 per cent. However, China remains thirteenth in terms of total citation numbers." At that rate, China won't be in 13th for long.

    From the global perspective it doesn't matter; all this means mankind as a whole is simply progressing much faster now. But from the US nationalist perspective, this definitely decreases our ability to compete for increasingly scarce natural resources. We've already seen this occur drastically in the price of oil.

  • Re:Hot! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Friday April 18, 2008 @04:57PM (#23122624) Homepage
    The big deal with this discovery isn't that the possibilities the new materials they've found are endless. They actually underperform what we already have. It's that we don't understand how what we have (cuprate superconductors) works, but if we did, we could potentially find much higher-temperature superconductors. This gives us a key to help understand high temperature superconductivity. And the possibilities of high-temperature superconductors would be endless (assuming they could be made affordably).

Often statistics are used as a drunken man uses lampposts -- for support rather than illumination.