After two decades of research, scientists from Cornell University were able to create a self-assembled 3D superconductor.
Study co-author Ulrich Weisner says this is the first time that a superconductor was able to form into a penetrable 3D spiral or gyroidal structure.
The gyroid looks like a cube based on a surface that cuts space into two volumes that have numerous spirals. The pores and superconducting object is so small, it only has a structural dimension of 10 nanometers. Such property may pave the way for novel superconductor profiles.
Superconductivity Free Of Temperature Hassles
Superconductivity pertains to the free flow of electrons without resistance and the subsequent energy-weakening heat.
At present, however, technologies that use superconductivity such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may only work at temperatures near absolute zero.
With this, superconductivity is rather expensive as the magnets need to be constantly cooled, typically through liquid helium and nitrogen.
Scientists are then very eager to find out how to achieve superconductivity at higher temperatures so that magnets need not to be cooled anymore. "That would revolutionize everything," says Wiesner. There's a huge impetus to get that."
Finding The Right Material
The authors wanted to create a gyroidal superconductor to analyze how it could affect superconductivity. The idea and passion were there but then the perfect material to do the job remained elusive over decades.
Study co-author James Sethna, who was then writing a paper about superconductors, suggested to use niobium nitride (NbN).
The researchers then went to perform their experiments using NbN. On their first try, they heated NbN by up to 700 degrees Celsius or 1292 degrees Fahrenheit. They then cooled the material to room temperature. As a result, they were not able to achieve superconductivity.
In their second attempt, the researchers heated the material to 850 degrees then cooled it. Upon testing, they discovered that it achieved superconductivity.
The researchers were not able to explain the science behind the need for heating, cooling and reheating. They are are still in the process of studying the mechanism.
Overall, the discovery is considered groundbreaking in terms of putting together organic and inorganic science, says Wiesner.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, Jan. 29.