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: Impurity size affects performance of emerging superconductive material

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

A 'quantum leap' in encryption technology

4 hours ago

Toshiba Research Europe, BT, ADVA Optical Networking and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK's National Measurement Institute, today announced the first successful trial of Quantum Key Distribution ...

Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

4 hours ago

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. ...

Bake your own droplet lens

5 hours ago

A droplet of clear liquid can bend light, acting as a lens. Now, by exploiting this well-known phenomenon, researchers have developed a new process to create inexpensive high quality lenses that will cost ...

How do liquid foams block sound?

6 hours ago

Liquid foams have a remarkable property: they completely block the transmission of sound over a wide range of frequencies. CNRS physicists working in collaboration with teams from Paris Diderot and Rennes ...

Probing the sound of a quantum dot

7 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Physicists at the University of Sydney have discovered a method of using microwaves to probe the sounds of a quantum dot, a promising platform for building a quantum computer.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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

More news stories

A 'quantum leap' in encryption technology

Toshiba Research Europe, BT, ADVA Optical Networking and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK's National Measurement Institute, today announced the first successful trial of Quantum Key Distribution ...

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

Autism Genome Project delivers genetic discovery

A new study from investigators with the Autism Genome Project, the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with risk for autism, has found that the comprehensive use of copy number variant (CNV) genetic ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...