A quantum leap for the next generation of superconductors

February 26, 2016, CORDIS
A quantum leap for the next generation of superconductors

Quantum materials – materials designed at the sub-atomic level – can be finely-tuned to achieve extremely useful properties that are often not found in nature. These include superconductivity, the ability to conduct electricity without resistance below a certain temperature.

An ambitious six-year EU-funded project, Q-MAC (Frontiers in Quantum Materials Control) was only launched in 2013, but has already achieved a number of potentially significant breakthroughs in this field. These findings could significantly advance European understanding of superconductivity and help to pioneer new industrial applications ranging from supercomputers to hover trains.

Superconductors at higher temperatures

For example, the team has shown that shining lasers at superconductors can make them work at higher temperatures. This is significant because superconductors currently only work at very low temperatures, which requires expensive liquid nitrogen or helium.

Superconductors are used in numerous high tech instruments such as medical scanners, super-fast electronic computer circuits and trains that use superconducting magnets to hover above the tracks, thus eliminating friction. The development of superconductors that work at higher temperatures – or even at room temperature – could help to cut costs by eliminating the need for cooling and lead to new applications.

Having focused on material made from potassium atoms and carbon atoms arranged in ball-like structures, the Q-MAC project team will now try to find other superconductors that can be coerced to work at even higher temperatures. The researchers are also looking to engineer new meta-materials – materials that are not found in nature – that offer optimised superconductivity.

High-temperature superconductors for practical applications

Another key objective is to ensure the stability of that can be exploited for practical applications. This is not straight forward; high-temperature superconductivity is a delicate property that is difficult to maintain for prolonged periods of time.

The challenge therefore is to prevent heat or other environmental factors from disturbing the system. In order to address this, the project team is currently looking into the possibility of 'sandwiching' the superconducting system between protective layers of specially engineered materials, which would 'screen out' disturbances. Novel experimental techniques, combined with advanced computer simulations, will be carried out.

The Q-MAC project team has also discovered that extremely short X-ray pulses can be used to achieve vibrations in crystals, trigger a change in the magnetic properties of an atomically-thin layer that lies on its surface. This anatomically-thin oxide film has properties very different from its bulk form.

This makes complex oxide structures a versatile tool for engineering materials and devices properties. Such ultrafast light control meta-materials could lead to new prospects in magnetic storage technologies.

In addition to the practical side of things, the Q-MAC project is also focusing on developing an accurate theoretical understanding of the behaviour of atoms and electrons in . The Q-MAC project is scheduled to run until September 2019.

Explore further: Scientists create laser-activated superconductor

More information: the Q-MAC project website: www.q-mac.eu/

Related Stories

Scientists explain the theory behind Ising superconductivity

November 23, 2015

Superconductivity is a fascinating quantum phenomenon in which electrons form pairs and flow with zero resistance. However, strong enough magnetic field can break electron pairs and destroy superconductivity. Surprisingly, ...

Recommended for you

Accelerating light beams in curved space

January 12, 2018

By shining a laser along the inside shell of an incandescent light bulb, physicists have performed the first experimental demonstration of an accelerating light beam in curved space. Rather than moving along a geodesic trajectory ...

New exotic phenomena seen in photonic crystals

January 12, 2018

Topological effects, such as those found in crystals whose surfaces conduct electricity while their bulk does not, have been an exciting topic of physics research in recent years and were the subject of the 2016 Nobel Prize ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 28, 2016
I get it!

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.