Less than two years after shocking the scientific world with the discovery of a material capable of superconductivity at room temperature, a team of physicists from UNLV have once again upped the ante by reproducing the feat at the highest pressure. bass never recorded.
In other words, science is closer than ever to a usable, repeatable material that could one day revolutionize the way energy is transported. UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and his colleague Ranga Dias, a physicist from the University of Rochester, made international headlines in 2020 by reporting the ambient temperature superconductivity for the first time. To achieve the feat, the scientists chemically synthesized a mixture of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen first into a metallic state and then even further into a superconducting state at room temperature using extreme pressure—267 gigapascals—conditions that would only be found in nature near the center of the Earth. Fast forward less than two years, and the team is now able to achieve the feat at just 91 GPa, about a third of the originally reported pressure. The new findings were published this month as a preliminary article in the journal Chemical communications.
A great discovery
By fine-tuning the composition of the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen used in the original breakthrough, scientists are able to produce material at lower pressure that retains its superconducting state.
“These are pressures at a level that is difficult to understand and assess outside of the lab, but our current trajectory shows that it is possible to achieve relatively high superconducting temperatures at consistently lower pressures, which is our ultimate goal. “said the study’s lead author, Gregory Alexander Smith, a graduate student researcher at UNLV’s Nevada Extreme Conditions Laboratory (NEXCL). “Ultimately, if we want to make devices useful for society’s needs, we need to reduce the pressure to create them.”
Although the pressures are still high – about a thousand times higher than what you would feel at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench – they continue to rush towards a near-zero goal. It’s a race that’s growing exponentially at UNLV as scientists gain a better understanding of the chemical relationship between the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen that make up the material.
“Our knowledge of the relationship between carbon and sulfur is progressing rapidly, and we are finding ratios that lead to remarkably different and more effective responses than what was initially observed,” said Salamat, who leads UNLV’s NEXCL and contributed to the latest study. “To observe such different phenomena in such a similar system simply shows the richness of Mother Nature. There’s so much more to understand, and each new advance brings us closer to the precipice of everyday superconducting devices.”
The holy grail of energy efficiency
Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon first observed more than a century ago, but only at remarkably low temperatures that preempted any idea of practical application. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists speculated that the feat might be possible at higher temperatures. The 2020 discovery by Salamat and his colleagues of a room-temperature superconductor has the scientific world excited in part because the technology supports electrical flow with zero resistance, which means energy flowing through a circuit could be infinite driving without loss of power. This could have major implications for energy storage and transmission, supporting everything from better cellphone batteries to a more efficient power grid.
“The global energy crisis shows no signs of abating and costs are rising in part because of a US energy grid that is losing an estimated $30 billion a year due to inefficiencies in current technology,” Salamat said. “For societal change, we need to be at the forefront of technology, and the work that is being done today is, I believe, at the forefront of tomorrow’s solutions.”
According to Salamat, the properties of superconductors can support a new generation of materials that could fundamentally change the energy infrastructure of the United States and beyond.
“Imagine harnessing energy in Nevada and sending it across the country without any energy loss,” he said. “This technology could one day make that possible.”
G. Alexander Smith et al, Carbon Content Drives High Temperature Superconductivity in Carbonaceous Sulfur Hydride Below 100 GPa, Chemical communications (2022). DOI: 10.1039/D2CC03170A
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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