Outstanding in the cold

Feb 20, 2012 By Brian Murphy
Physicist John P. Davis stands in the site of what will be Canada's coldest laboratory.

Physicist John P. Davis is counting the days until he takes delivery of equipment that will give the University of Alberta the distinction of having the coldest laboratory in Canada.  

Davis’s U of A research focuses on low-temperature physics and the refrigeration unit he’s expecting in March can get just about as low as you can go on this planet: minus-273˚C.

“That kind of temperature gives us access to superconductivity research, which is the transmission of electric current with absolutely no resistance,” Davis says.

The fact that electrical flow is improved by lower temperatures has been known and studied since the early 1900s. Many Canadians have noticed that during deep cold snaps their indoor lights may suddenly shine more brightly. The reason, say, is that the chill dramatically reduces the electrical resistance in the power lines outside their homes.

Davis says superconductivity results in the complete elimination of resistance, which requires extremely low temperatures. “The dilution refrigerator on order from England is about 10 feet long and, towards the bottom, has a small compartment in which we’ll place new materials we want to test,” Davis says.

The equipment looks nothing like the refrigerator in your kitchen. It’s a three-metre long tube suspended by a hoist and hanging in a special compartment beneath the basement floor of the university’s Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. “The compartment is completely separate from the building,” Davis says. “That eliminates the vibration and electrical or magnetic interference that affects the rest of CCIS.”

Davis says one goal of superconductivity experiments is to find materials that one day could be made to work with zero electrical resistance at more practical temperatures. 

“The holy grail of superconductivity is to find a material that eliminates at room temperature,” Davis says. “That’s when superconductivity could have applications for everyday life.”

Davis has been working closely with technicians at Oxford Instruments, a maker of high-tech tools and systems for research and industry, on the final design of the dilution refrigerator. If the work and projected delivery times stay on schedule, he expects that he and his students will be running low-temperature experiments by late this summer.

While some researchers are looking at futuristic applications such as magnetic levitation devices, Davis envisions something with a wider benefit. He says that superconductors on large-scale power grids could dramatically reduce world power consumption. “And that technology is within sight.” 

Explore further: Warming up the world of superconductors

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Superconductivity's third side unmasked

Jun 17, 2011

The debate over the mechanism that causes superconductivity in a class of materials called the pnictides has been settled by a research team from Japan and China. Superconductivity was discovered in the pnictides ...

New property in warm superconductors discovered

Nov 17, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Led by Simon Fraser University physicist Jeff Sonier, scientists at TRIUMF have discovered something that they think may severely hinder the creation of room-temperature (37 degrees Celsius) superconductors.

Recommended for you

New filter could advance terahertz data transmission

7 hours ago

University of Utah engineers have discovered a new approach for designing filters capable of separating different frequencies in the terahertz spectrum, the next generation of communications bandwidth that ...

The super-resolution revolution

7 hours ago

Cambridge scientists are part of a resolution revolution. Building powerful instruments that shatter the physical limits of optical microscopy, they are beginning to watch molecular processes as they happen, ...

Precision gas sensor could fit on a chip

9 hours ago

Using their expertise in silicon optics, Cornell engineers have miniaturized a light source in the elusive mid-infrared (mid-IR) spectrum, effectively squeezing the capabilities of a large, tabletop laser onto a 1-millimeter ...

A new X-ray microscope for nanoscale imaging

10 hours ago

Delivering the capability to image nanostructures and chemical reactions down to nanometer resolution requires a new class of x-ray microscope that can perform precision microscopy experiments using ultra-bright ...

New research signals big future for quantum radar

22 hours ago

A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team led by a quantum information scientist at the University ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Counterindigo
5 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2012
Cool.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.