David Hawthorn, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy, recently published research on the properties of a quantum state of matter called superconductivity. </p>
Superconductivity is a phenomenon which occurs when certain materials, such as aluminum and lead, are cooled to critical temperatures between –262 and –234 C. This allows materials to conduct electricity with zero resistance, unlike wiring in electronics and buildings.
“If one were able to develop a superconductor that worked at room temperature, you would be able to have this great property of electrical conduction and also other fascinating quantum applications such as magnetic levitation,” Hawthorn said.
For physicists, the focus of research on this topic is to examine how materials with superconductivity are different from materials that are understood well, such as diamond and silicone.
“It turns out that these materials that we study and that are perhaps our best hopes at generating a room temperature superconductor, happen to also be an extremely interesting problem in how electrons organize themselves in materials,” Hawthron said. “We understand generally most materials you encounter day to day, but these materials that we studied … are materials we don’t have a good theory for.”
Hawthorn’s research, published in Science and Nature Materials, found a property of superconductivity called nematicity.
“What nematicity means is that electrons spontaneously break at rotational symmetry of the material,” Hawthorn said. “That property that we found … might be another key foundational ingredient in the whole big problem of superconductivity currents.”
The other property of superconductors is that electrons in these materials go into a phase where they spatially segregate into little rivers of charge, which doesn’t happen with most materials. According to Hawthorn, this property seems to be co-existing and competing with superconductivity.
This research also has relevance in technology to potentially improve superconducting materials for applications such as energy storage and energy transportation.
“One of the overarching themes of this research area is to develop a better superconductor … If not us, but someone else were to develop a room temperature superconductor, this would be a game-changing technology.”
Hawthorn hopes to solve the problem of creating a better superconductor, as well as solve the challenges associated with superconductors.