Despite some high-profile setbacks, the field of superconductivity is enjoying something of a renaissance, researchers say. "It's not a dying field — on the contrary," says Lilia Boeri, a physicist who specializes in computational predictions at the Sapienza University of Rome. The progress is fuelled in part by the new capabilities of computer simulations to predict the existence and properties of undiscovered materials.
Much of the excitement is focused on 'super-hydrides' — hydrogen-rich materials that have shown superconductivity at ever-higher temperatures, as long as they are kept at high pressure. The subject of a Nature paper that was retracted last week was purported to be such a material, made of hydrogen, lutetium, and nitrogen. But work in the past few years has unearthed several families of materials that could have revolutionary properties. "It really does look like we're on the hairy edge of being able to find a lot of new superconductors," says Paul Canfield, a physicist at Iowa State University and Ames National Laboratory.
The interplay of theory, simulation, materials synthesis, and experiment has been crucial to progress, experts say.
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