Superconductors are materials with zero electrical resistance: electrons flow unhindered and this allows electricity to be transmitted without loss and without heat being dissipated. Creating superconductors that work at room temperature would pose spectacular technological advances, and now a group of scientists think they have the solution to do it.
Neither too cold nor too hot. Superconductivity has been known since 1911, but superconducting materials were first created using extremely low temperatures. Mercury, for example, needed to be four degrees above absolute zero to be superconducting. Then, in 1987, Georg Bednorz and Alexander Müller would win the fastest Nobel in history for discovering cuprates and high-temperature superconductivity. Neither were however ideal.
Little’s superconductor. More than 50 years ago William A. Little, a physicist at Stanford University, toyed with the idea but failed to solve the problem. Now a team at the University of Virginia believes that the networks of carbon nanotubes in this theoretical semiconductor could be modified to control chemical reactions along those nanotubes. The secret?
ADN. Edward H. Egelman and Leticia Beltran have been working on cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) for some time and according to them the answer to this problem lies in DNA. With this material they were able to use that advanced chemistry to create precise structures that are like tiny constructions at the molecule level. The result was a network of carbon nanotubes assembled in a suitable way to obtain that superconductor at room temperature that Little theorized about.
Testing testing. The network they have created with DNA has not yet been tested in the realm of superconductivity, but they believe it is proof that this path has great potential in the future. “Although Cryo-EM has become the main technique in biology for determining the atomic structures of protein assemblies, it has had no impact on materials science until now.
revolution in sight. The impact that the discovery of room-temperature superconductors would have would be enormous in all kinds of sectors: power plants could be built far from cities, nuclear fusion reactors would be closer, and they would also be used in our computers, in electric motors and in magnetic levitation devices. The applications would be extraordinary, and this advance could help achieve them.
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