Superconductivity is a remarkable phenomenon: superconductors can transport electric current without any resistance and thus without any losses whatsoever. It is already in use in some niche areas, for example as magnets for nuclear spin tomography or particle accelerators. However, the materials must be cooled to very low temperatures for this purpose. But during the past year, an experiment has provided some surprises.
With the aid of short infrared laser pulses, researchers have succeeded for the first time in making a ceramic superconducting at room temperature – albeit for only a few millionths of a microsecond. An international team, in which physicists from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg have made crucial contributions, has now been able to present a possible explanation of the effect in the journal Nature: The scientists believe that laser pulses cause individual atoms in the crystal lattice to shift briefly and thus enhance the superconductivity. The findings could assist in the development of materials which become superconducting at significantly higher temperatures and would thus be of interest for new applications.