Scientists have discovered a new material that could be set to change the entire world. The fact that the conductivity of the material is successful in practical conditions further glorifies the discovery. When a material is superconductive, electricity flows through it with zero resistance, which means none of the energy involved is lost as heat. But every superconductor made so far has required extraordinary high pressures, and most have required very low temperatures.
Researchers say they have created a superconducting material that works at both a temperature and a pressure low enough to actually use it in practical situations. It reaches a breakthrough that scientists have been chasing for more than a century, in making a material that is able to transmit electricity without resistance, and pass magnetic fields around the material.
The world of energy and electronics may transform as a result of the discovery of a new superconductor material, according to a team of scientists. Its discovery could lead to power grids that are able to seamlessly transmit energy, saving up to 200 million megawatt hours that are currently lost to resistance. It could also contribute to nuclear fusion, a long-awaited process that could create unlimited power. The breakthrough might pave the way for hovering trains and ultra-efficient electrical grids and new kinds of medical equipment and highly efficient MRI machines for diagnostic purposes.
According to the New Scientist, an assistant professor named Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester in New York and his colleagues claim to have made a material from hydrogen (99 per cent), nitrogen (1 per cent), and lutetium that becomes superconductor at a temperature of just 69 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of 1 gigapascal. That is nearly 10,000 times the atmospheric pressure on Earth's surface, but still a far lower pressure than any previous superconducting material.
In a paper published in scientific journal Nature , the researchers describe how they combined the three components to create the material by pressing it between two diamond anvils, a device that compresses materials to extremely high pressures. Its colour shifted from blue to red when the substance was crushed. The material has been nicknamed “reddmatter”, after its colour and as a nod to a material from Star Trek. It found that name during the process of creating it, when scientists found that it surprisingly switched to become a “very bright red” while it was being created.
Professor Dias and the team made the material by taking a rare earth metal named lutetium and mixed it with hydrogen and a small part of nitrogen. They were then left to react for two or three days, at high temperatures. The compound came out as a rich blue, according to the paper. But it was then pressed at very high pressure, when it turned from blue to pink as it reached superconductivity, and then again became a rich red at its non-superconducting metallic state.
To work, the material still requires being heated to 20.5 degrees Celsius and compressed to about 145,000 psi. But that is vastly less intense than other, similar materials – including those announced in 2020 by Professor Dias that brought excitement and skepticism from scientists. Hydrides created by combining rare earth metals with hydrogen, and then adding nitrogen or carbon, have provided researchers a tantalising “working recipe” for creating superconducting materials in recent years.
In technical terms, rare earth metal hydrides form clathrate-like cage structures, where the rare earth metal ions act as carrier donors, providing sufficient electrons that would enhance the dissociation of the H2 molecules. Nitrogen and carbon help stabilise materials. Bottom line: less pressure is required for superconductivity to occur. Lutetium has highly localised fully-filled 14 electrons in its f orbital configuration that suppress the phonon softening and provide enhancement to the electron-phonon coupling needed for superconductivity to take place at ambient temperatures.
The key question was, how are we going to stabilise this to lower the required pressure? And that’s where nitrogen came into the picture. Nitrogen, like carbon, has a rigid atomic structure that can be used to create a more stable, cage-like lattice within a material and it hardens the low-frequency optical phonons. This structure provides the stability for superconductivity to occur at lower pressure.
"With this material, the dawn of ambient superconductivity and applied technologies has arrived," according to a team led by Ranga Dias, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and physics. “A pathway to superconducting consumer electronics, energy transfer lines, transportation, and significant improvements of magnetic confinement for fusion are now a reality," said Professor Dias in a statement. We believe we are now in the modern superconducting era.
According to these scientists, this miracle material has superconducting properties that could enable: (i) Power grids that transmit electricity without the loss of up to 200 million megawatt hours (MWh) of the energy that now occurs due to resistance in the wires (ii) Frictionless, levitating high-speed trains (iii) More affordable medical imaging and scanning techniques such as MRI and magnetocardiography (iv)Faster, more efficient electronics for digital logic and memory device technology (v)Tokamak machines that use magnetic fields to confine plasmas to achieve fusion as a source of unlimited power.
Dias predicts that nitrogen-doped lutetium hydride will greatly accelerate progress in the development of tokamak machines to achieve fusion. According to him, tokamaks, another method of trapping plasma instead of lasers, could produce an enormous magnetic field when combined with the material he discovered. According to him, this is exactly the “game changer”.
The new material is described in a paper, ‘Evidence of near-ambient superconductivity in an N-doped lutetium hydride’, published in Nature today. It found the name ’’ reddmatter’’ during the process of creating it, when scientists found that it surprisingly switched to become a “very bright red” while it was being created. And it is practical enough that the scientists involved in the paper say that it will mark a new era for the practical use of superconducting materials.
We believe we are now in the modern superconducting era. Those practical applications might include using the material to accelerate the development of “tokamak machines” that are being developed to achieve nuclear fusion. The world of energy and electronics may transform drastically and efficiently as a result of the discovery of this new superconductor material. And it is practical enough that the scientists involved in the paper say that it will mark a new era for the practical use of superconducting materials.