January 27, 2023

A team of physicists from UNLV’s Nevada Extreme Conditions Lab (NEXCL) used a diamond anvil cell, a research device similar to the one pictured, in their research to lower the pressure needed to observe a material capable of superconducting at room temperature. Credit: NEXCL

Less than two years after shocking the scientific world with the discovery of a material capable of superconductivity at room temperature, a team of UNLV physicists has once again raised the bar by reproducing the feat at the lowest pressure ever recorded.

In other words, science is closer than ever to a usable, reproducible material that could one day revolutionize the way energy is transported. UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and colleague Ranga Dias, a physicist at the University of Rochester, made international headlines in 2020 by reporting superconductivity at room temperature for the first time. To achieve the feat, the scientists chemically synthesized a mixture of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen, first in a metallic state and then even further in a superconducting state at room temperature using extreme pressure – 267 gigapascals – conditions you can only find in the would find nature near the center of the earth. Fast forward, less than two years, and the team is now able to complete the feat at just 91 GPa – about a third of the pressure initially reported. The new findings were published this month as an advance article in the journal Chemical communication.

A great discovery

By fine-tuning the composition of carbon, sulfur and hydrogen used in the original breakthrough, scientists are able to produce a material that retains its superconductivity state at lower pressures.

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“These are pressures at a level that is difficult to understand and evaluate outside the lab, but our current trajectory shows that it is possible to achieve relatively high superconducting temperatures at consistently lower pressures – which is our ultimate goal,” said lead author Gregory Alexander Smith, a graduate student researcher at UNLV’s Nevada Extreme Conditions Laboratory (NEXCL). “Ultimately, if we want to make devices that are beneficial to societal needs, we need to reduce the pressure needed to make them.”

While the pressure is still high — about a thousand times higher than you’d experience at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific — they continue to race toward a near-zero target. It’s a race that is gaining momentum at UNLV as scientists gain a better understanding of the chemical relationship between the carbon, sulfur and hydrogen that make up the material.

“Our knowledge of the relationship between carbon and sulfur is rapidly increasing and we are finding ratios that lead to remarkably different and more efficient reactions than initially observed,” said Salamat, who leads UNLV’s NEXCL and contributed to the latest study. “Observing such different phenomena in a similar system only shows the richness of Mother Nature. There is so much more to understand, and each new advance brings us closer to the abyss of everyday superconducting devices.”

The Holy Grail of Energy Efficiency

Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon first observed more than a century ago, but only at remarkably low temperatures that prevented any thought of practical application. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists theorized that the feat would be possible at higher temperatures. The discovery in 2020 by Salamat and colleagues of a superconductor at room temperature has excited the scientific world, in part because the technology supports electric current without resistance, meaning that energy passing through a circuit can be conducted infinitely and without loss of power. This could have major implications for energy storage and transmission, supporting everything from better batteries for cell phones to a more efficient power grid.

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“The global energy crisis shows no signs of slowing down and costs are rising in part as a result of a US energy grid losing about $30 billion annually due to the inefficiency of current technology,” Salamat said. “Societal change requires us to be at the forefront of technology, and today’s work is, I believe, at the forefront of tomorrow’s solutions.”

According to Salamat, the properties of superconductors could support a new generation of materials that could fundamentally change the energy infrastructure of the US and beyond.

“Imagine being able to use energy in Nevada and send it across the country without any loss of energy,” he said. “This technology could someday make it possible.”

Under pressure, ‘squishy’ compound reacts in remarkable ways

More information:
G. Alexander Smith et al, Carbon content stimulates high temperature superconductivity in a carbonaceous sulfur hydride less than 100 GPa, Chemical communication (2022). DOI: 10.1039/D2CC03170A

Provided by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Quote: Low pressure, high stakes: Physicists make big gains in room temperature superconductivity race (2022, Aug. 3), retrieved Aug. 3, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-pressure-high-stakes- physicists -great.html

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