Superconductivity Evolves

Light grey background and atomic element symbol "Al" (aluminum/aluminium) surrounded by a back circle which is surrounded by 3 progressively larger gray circles containing 13 solid circles representing the electrons in the atom. The 3 outer rings contain 2, 8, and 3 circles respectively.

Every so often it is reported that a new type of superconductivity or a new material that can super-conduct past a certain energy is discovered. The difference between the previous energy level and the new is typically relatively small — usually within a few single digits of the last (sort by the Tc (K) field). Phys.org reports on a potential breakthrough by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) who have discovered both a new material type that may super-conduct at a significantly higher energy level (and temperature) than current superconductors. The material? An exotic, rare, and expensive mineral? Nope, plain old aluminum atoms in a cluster.

Light grey background and atomic element symbol "Al" (aluminum/aluminium) surrounded by a back circle which is surrounded by 3 progressively larger gray circles containing 13 solid circles representing the electrons in the atom. The 3 outer rings contain 2, 8, and 3 circles respectively.
Atomic structure of an aluminum/aluminium element.

The aluminum atoms have a potential critical transition (energy/temperature at which pairs of electrons mimic each other’s movements known as Cooper pairs) of 100 K (Kelvin) or about -280 degrees Fahrenheit (F). That sounds pretty cold but not when you compare it to the current high of 39 K (about -389°F). A difference of 61 K or 110°F. The researchers also believe this new material type is only the beginning and could lead to other materials with even higher transition energies and temperatures — potentially even to room temperature superconductors.

Obviously this has yet to be experimentally proven — the researchers did some preliminary experiments that show a very good possibility of superconductivity at those energies but did not actually create an aluminum superconductor. In short — looks good on paper, but may not actually exist. It will still be interesting to watch and see what happens as experiments progress with this new material type.