What Is a Superconductor?

Superconductors are materials that offer no resistance to electrical current and basically a superconductive material is a material that can conduct electricity no resistance. This means they can conduct electricity without energy losses. Every material releases heat or some kind of energy when they transport electrons through it except superconductors. Prominent examples of superconductors include aluminum, niobium, magnesium.

Unfortunately, most materials must be in an extremely low energy state (very cold) in order to become superconductive. Research is underway to develop compounds that become superconductive at higher temperatures. Currently, an excessive amount of energy used in the cooling process making superconductors inefficient and it is uneconomical.

A brief history of superconductors

The first discovery of a superconductive material took place in 1911 when a Dutch scientist named Heike Kammerlingh Onnes. He is the first person to liquefy helium, and reached temperatures as low as 1.7 kelvin (K).

In 1960 which was the practical superconducting device commercialized era, Scientists came up with two unrelated discoveries.

  • Discovery of NbTi superconductor, which provided the first material for the practical manufacture of superconducting wire and shaped components.
  • The second was the Josephson junction, which continues to provide the basis for a variety of unique electronic devices.

How does that work

Imagine the atoms making up a superconductor as being like a regular array of positive charges held more or less in place. But free to move by small amounts, an electron passing through the lattice will distort things slightly.

A second electron coming along will see that disturbance in the lattice, and have its trajectory altered by it. The net result is to pull the second electron toward the first, and vice versa, creating a small attractive interaction between them. That lattice-mediated interaction is what causes the electrons to “pair up.” The resulting pairs are called “Cooper pairs” after Leon Cooper, who worked out how this would happen.

Uses of superconductors

Imagine if we could make a material that was superconducting at room temperature. Our computers would work faster because they’d allow electric currents to flow more easily. We could make powerful electromagnets and that turned electricity into magnetism without wasting anything like as much energy. It means electric appliances in our homes and offices would waste much less power.

We could also make “Maglev” (magnetic levitation) trains that would float on rails using linear motors and get us around with a fraction of the power used by current locomotives.

Engineers are already trying to use superconductors in all these ways. But if they could find a really high-temperature superconductor (one that worked at about 0–20°C (32–68°F or 273–293K), their job would be an awful lot easier! That is the thing of another level.

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