Physicists are making headway in the race for superconductivity at room temperature

Diamond Anvil Cell
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Diamond Anvil Cell

A group of physicists from UNLV’s Nevada Emergency Laboratory (NEXCL) used a diamond anvil cell, a research device similar to the one described in their study, to reduce the pressure needed to observe superconducting material at room temperature. Credit: Image courtesy of NEXCL

Less than two years ago, the world of science was shocked by the discovery of a material capable of superconductivity at room temperature. Now, a team of physicists at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) has upped the ante once again by repeating the feat at the lowest pressure ever recorded.

To be clear, this means that science is closer than ever to a usable, reproducible material that could one day revolutionize energy transport.

It made international headlines with its discovery in 2020 superconductivity at room temperature for the first time By UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and University of Rochester physicist Ranga Dias. To achieve this feat, scientists first chemically converted a mixture of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen into a metallic state and then superconducted it at room temperature using extremely high pressure – 267 gigapascals. Nature near the center of the earth.

Fast forward less than two years, and the researchers are now able to complete the feat at just 91 GPa—about a third of the pressure originally reported. The new findings were published as an advance paper in the journal Chemical Bonds this month.

Super Discovery

By fine-tuning the composition of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen used in the original breakthrough, the researchers are now able to produce a material that retains its superconductivity at lower pressures.

“These are pressures that are difficult to perceive and evaluate outside the laboratory, but our current trajectory shows that it is possible to achieve relatively high superconducting temperatures at consistently lower pressures – which is our main goal,” said Gregory Alexander Smith, lead author of the study. , a graduate researcher with UNLVs Nevada Extreme Conditions Laboratory (NEXCL). “At the end of the day, if we want to make useful devices for social needs, then we need to reduce the pressure it takes to create them.”

Although the pressures are still very high – about a thousand times higher than you can experience at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench – they continue to race towards the near-zero goal. It’s a race that’s gaining steam exponentially at UNLV as researchers better understand the chemical relationship between the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen that make up the material.

“Our knowledge of the relationship between carbon and sulfur is evolving rapidly, and we’re finding ratios that lead to reactions that are quite different and more efficient than originally observed,” said Salamat, who led UNLV’s NEXCL study and contributed to the latest study. “To observe such diverse phenomena in a similar system simply shows the richness of Mother Nature. There is much more to understand, and each new breakthrough brings us closer to the precipice of everyday superconducting devices.”

The Holy Grail of Energy Efficiency

Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon that was first observed more than a century ago, but only at extremely low temperatures prevents any thought of practical application. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists theorized that this feat might be possible at high temperatures. The 2020 discovery of a room-temperature superconductor by Salamat and colleagues excited the scientific world in part because the technology supports electrical flow with zero resistance, meaning that the energy through the circuit can be carried infinitely and without power loss. This could have major implications supporting energy storage and transmission, from better cell phone batteries to a more efficient power grid.

“The global energy crisis shows no signs of slowing down, and costs are rising in part because the U.S. power grid is losing about $30 billion annually due to the inefficiency of existing technology,” Salamat said. “For societal change, we need to lead technology, and the work that happens today, I believe, is at the forefront of tomorrow’s solutions.”

According to Salamat, the properties of superconductors could support a new generation of materials that could fundamentally change the energy infrastructure of the United States and beyond.

“Imagine using energy in Nevada and sending it across the country without any energy loss.” “This technology may one day make that possible.”

Reference: “Carbon content induces high-temperature superconductivity in carbonic sulfur hydride below 100 GPa” by G. Alexander Smith, Ines E. Collings, Elliot Snider, Dean Smith, Sylvain Petitgirard, Jesse S. Smith, Melanie White, Elyse Jones, Paul ” Ellison, Keith V. Lawler, Ranga P. Dias, and Ashkan Salamat, 7 Jul 2022, Chemical Bonds.
DOI: 10.1039/D2CC03170A

Smith, the lead author, is a former UNLV undergraduate researcher in Salamat’s lab and a current doctoral student in chemistry and research with NEXCL. Additional study authors include Salamat, Dean Smith, Paul Ellison, Melanie White, and Keith Lawler with UNLV; Ranga Dias, Elliot Snider, and Elyse Jones with the University of Rochester; Ines E. Collings with Swiss Federal Materials Science and Technology Laboratories, ETH Zurich with Sylvain Petitgirard; and Jesse S. Smith with Argonne National Laboratory.

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