Waste heat is all around you. On a small scale, if your phone or laptop feels warm, that's because some of the energy powering the device is being transformed into unwanted heat.
On a larger scale, electric grids, such as high power lines, lose over 5% of their energy in the process of transmission. In an electric power industry that generated more than US$400 billion in 2018, that's a tremendous amount of wasted money.
Globally, the computer systems of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others require enormous amounts of energy to power massive cloud servers and data centers. Even more energy, to power water and air cooling systems, is required to offset the heat generated by these computers.
Where does this wasted heat come from? Electrons. These elementary particles of an atom move around and interact with other electrons and atoms. Because they have an electric charge, as they move through a material—like metals, which can easily conduct electricity—they scatter off other atoms and generate heat.
Superconductors are materials that address this problem by allowing energy to flow efficiently through them without generating unwanted heat. They have great potential and many cost-effective applications. They operate magnetically levitated trains, generate magnetic fields for MRI machines and recently have been used to build quantum computers, though a fully operating one does not yet exist.
But superconductors have an essential problem when it comes to other practical applications: They operate at ultra-low temperatures. There are no room-temperature superconductors. That "room-temperature" part is what scientists have been working on for more than a century. Billions of dollars have funded research to solve this problem. Scientists around the world, including me, are trying to understand the physics of superconductors and how they can be enhanced.To read more, click here.