U of S helps discover new family of superconductors

By in News

Associate News Editor

U of S physics professor John Tse has made a large contribution to superconductor research.

superconductor-CamillaHoel Superconductors are materials that conduct electricity with no resistance; usually electricity is conducted through wires, which do offer resistance. This resistance causes loss of electricity and costs power companies money. The inefficiency of conductors is a problem scientists hope to solve.

“The ultimate goal,” Tse said, “is to create material that can operate at ambient conditions and have no resistance.”

Superconductors that have already been discovered and put to use include the magnets used in MRI machines and the beam-steering magnets used in particle accelerators.

One goal that has eluded superconductor researchers is finding a financially viable superconductor that will work at room temperature. So far, most of the superconductors that have been observed need to be used at extremely low temperatures, which requires expensive super-cooling equipment.

The superconductor family Tse discovered in conjunction with a number of international researchers is a group of hydrogen compounds known as molecular hydrides. Tse and graduate student Yansun Yao worked out the theoretical basis for the experiment as well as the key chemical structures involved, while German scientist Mikhail Eremets did the lab work.

A hydride must be cooled to -250 C while pressure is simultaneously applied to it or it does not act as a superconductor.

This research is the first experimental proof that hydrides can act as superconductors. The information is valuable because pure hydrogen requires extremely low temperatures and tremendous pressure to create superconductive behaviour. The conditions molecular hydrides require are not nearly as extreme.

Tse cited “scientific interest” as another reason for the research.

“Finding the scientific theory that can explain how electrons operate in these conditions” is something many scientists are curious about, Tse explained.

photo Camilla Hoel