Scientists mapping out the quantum characteristics of superconductors—materials that conduct electricity with no energy loss—have entered a new regime. Using newly connected tools named OASIS at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, they've uncovered previously inaccessible details of the "phase diagram" of one of the most commonly studied "high-temperature" superconductors. The newly mapped data includes signals of what happens when superconductivity vanishes.
"In terms of superconductivity, this may sound bad, but if you study some phenomenon, it is always good to be able to approach it from its origin," said Brookhaven physicist Tonica Valla, who led the study just published in the journal Nature Communications. "If you have a chance to see how superconductivity disappears, that in turn might give insight into what causes superconductivity in the first place."
Unlocking the secrets of superconductivity holds great promise in addressing energy challenges. Materials able to carry current over long distances with no loss would revolutionize power transmission, eliminate the need for cooling computer-packed data centers, and lead to new forms of energy storage, for example. The hitch is that, at present, most known superconductors, even the "high-temperature" varieties, must themselves be kept super cold to perform their current-carrying magic. So, scientists have been trying to understand the key characteristics that cause superconductivity in these materials with the goal of discovering or creating new materials that can operate at temperatures more practical for these everyday applications.