Why It Matters | Have scientists finally discovered a room-temperature superconductor?
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The answer is maybe, plus there is a catch.

March 10, 2023 06:23 pm | Updated March 13, 2023 01:34 pm IST

A 1-mm-wide sample of the nitrogen-doped lutetium hydride created by Dias et al.

A 1-mm-wide sample of the nitrogen-doped lutetium hydride created by Dias et al. | Photo Credit: University of Rochester/J. Adam Fenste

The facts

  • Researchers from the University of Rochester have reported that a compound called lutetium hydride becomes a room-temperature superconductor when pressurised to around 3,000 atmospheres (atm).
  • The compound is made by pressurising a chamber containing a lutetium foil and nitrogen and hydrogen gas to 20,000 atm and increasing the temperature to 300º C for three days.

The context

  • The research group is led by Ranga Dias, who has been controversial for claiming the presence of superconductivity in another material made of carbon, sulphur, and hydrogen (CSH).
  • The group’s 2020 paper making the claim was retracted by the journal that published it after other independent groups reported that they couldn’t replicate Dias et al.’s results when they conducted the same tests.
  • In February 2023, Dias et al. published a preprint paper (i.e. not yet peer-reviewed) in which they reported synthesising a new version of CSH that became superconducting in slightly different circumstances.
  • Independent scientists may have a tough time validating the new material, reported on March 8, because Dias et al. have said they will be commercialising the substance through a for-profit company, and won’t be sharing it with other labs.

Why it matters

  • Room-temperature superconductivity is a holy grail of the field of condensed matter physics, with revolutionary and widely disruptive applications in electronics, diagnostics, and computing.
  • However, many materials found to date that become superconducting at or near room temperature also need to be subjected to very high pressures. This makes them commercially infeasible.
  • While nitrogen-doped lutetium hydride is likely to have many applications itself, scientists have told Science, among others, that the research community won’t be convinced until it can replicate Dias et al.’s findings.

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