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Last week, I gained a phenomenally geeky claim to fame: I once made a musical instrument out of a piece of apparatus that has just been used to shed light on a mystery that has hung over physics for the past 25 years. Allow me to explain, as I will at every dinner party I attend for the next eight years.

Let’s start with the mystery. We’ve known for just over a century about strange materials called "superconductors" – materials that, below a certain temperature, allow an electric current to flow inside them indefinitely without losing any energy. As well as being a fascinating scientific curiosity, superconductivity also has a wealth of practical applications: perfectly efficient power lines, hugely powerful electromagnets for particle accelerators or hospital scanners, or even levitating trains (see the video at the foot of this article for a demonstration).

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