Scientists create laser-activated superconductor

February 8, 2016
Scientists create laser-activated superconductor
High speed maglev trains use superconductors to make the train hover above the track. Credit: Shutterstock, cyo bo

Shining lasers at superconductors can make them work at higher temperatures, suggests new findings from an international team of scientists including the University of Bath.

Superconductors are materials that conduct electricity without and produce . They are used in medical scanners, super-fast electronic circuits and in Maglev trains which use superconducting magnets to make the train hover above the tracks, eliminating friction.

Currently superconductors only work at very , requiring liquid nitrogen or helium to maintain their temperature. Now scientists publishing in the prestigious journal Nature have found a way to make certain materials superconduct at higher temperatures.

The team, led by the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter and including the Universities of Bath and Oxford, shone a laser at a material made up from potassium atoms and carbon atoms arranged in bucky ball structures and found it to still be superconducting at more than 100 degrees Kelvin—around minus 170 degrees Celsius.

The researchers hope these findings could lead to new routes and insights into making better superconductors that work at higher temperatures.

Superconducting at higher temperatures

Dr Stephen Clark, theoretical physicist at the University of Bath, worked with his experimental physicist colleagues to try to understand how superconductivity might emerge when the material is exposed to laser radiation.

He explained: "Superconductors currently only work at very low temperatures, requiring expensive cryogenics—if we can design materials that superconduct at higher temperatures, or even , it would eliminate the need for cooling, which would make them less expensive and more practical to use in a variety of applications.

"Our research has shown we can use lasers to make a material into a superconductor at much higher temperatures than it would do naturally. But having taken this first step, my colleagues and I will be trying to find other that can be coerced to work at even higher temperatures, possibly even at room temperature.

"Whilst this is a small piece of a very large puzzle, our findings provide a new pathway for engineering and controlling superconductivity that might help stimulate future breakthroughs."

Explore further: Phosphine as a superconductor? Sure, but the story may be complicated

More information: M. Mitrano et al. Possible light-induced superconductivity in K3C60 at high temperature, Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature16522

Related Stories

Superconductivity without cooling

December 4, 2014

Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon: superconductors can transport electric current without any resistance and thus without any losses whatsoever. It is already in use in some niche areas, for example as magnets ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new rules for quasicrystals

October 25, 2016

Crystals are defined by their repeating, symmetrical patterns and long-range order. Unlike amorphous materials, in which atoms are randomly packed together, the atoms in a crystal are arranged in a predictable way. Quasicrystals ...


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.