Superconductivity At Room Temperature? IISc’s Breakthrough Research, Explained


It's been over a week since IISc’s breakthrough on superconductivity has again created news.

This time the research supervisor-student duo of the Solid State and Structural Chemistry Department came out with a clarification on a paper they posted on ‘arXiv’ last year claiming that they had found superconductivity in ambient temperature and pressure.

Why is this important? Let's have a rundown.

The authors of the paper, Anshu Pandey and Dev Kumar Thappa, both research scholars at IISc, claimed that they had discovered superconducting behaviour at room temperature and pressure in a nanostructured composite material of silver and gold – formed by embedding silver nanoparticles in a gold matrix.

What is a superconductor?

Superconductors are materials that exhibit perfect conductivity to electricity and perfect diamagnetism.

Perfect conductivity here means zero resistance to electricity and thereby zero power loss. Whereas perfect diamagnetism implies strong repulsion when a magnetic field is applied.

Thus, superconductivity has, since its discovery by Dutch scientist Kammerlingh Onnes in 1911, been a holy grail in material science - it gives the possibility of generating, transmitting and utilising electrical energy without any loss.

The fact that such materials exhibits strong diamagnetism means that we could generate very strong forces that can work against gravity; for instance, you can have a bearing that is both frictionless and contactless.

These strong forces can even be utilised for fast ground transportation of trains. In fact, superconducting trains can travel at very high speeds without any contact with the ground, i.e., trains can be levitated above the ground.

You might think that life would be so easy with superconductors. No. The prospect of superconductors also comes with a lot of conditions.

Materials that exhibit this property have only done so when cooled to sufficiently low temperatures close to absolute zero (0 Kelvin or -273.15 celsius). Achieving this level of temperature is highly expensive and, at the same time, an energy consuming process.

That is why material science experts have always tried various combinations of metals and other elements to achieve superconductivity at higher temperatures.

Given that, the claim by the IISc research scholars last year then took the entire science community by surprise.

Many initially dismissed the claim, pointing out insufficiency in details and indicating flaws in the data.

However, this time they have revised their claim with more measurements and an elaborate team, standing by the claim they made earlier.

So if they are able to categorically prove their claim of having observed superconductivity at ambient temperature and pressure in a nanostructured gold-silver composite material, this will revolutionise electrical transmission and high speed transportation worldwide, and India can hold its head high for that, with maybe even a physics Nobel for the taking.

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Read: Explained: What IISc’s Breakthrough In Superconductivity At Room Temperature Means


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