Superconductivity roadblock breakthrough

14 February 2013
By Edward Gent
Mobile version
Share |
This mosaic represents the distribution of superconductivity around holes, marked in white, in a thin sheet of superconducting film. Green indicates strong superconductivity. Further away from the holes, the superconductivity decreases, from yellow to red and finally to black, where the material is densely populated with vortices that interfere with superconductivity

This mosaic represents the distribution of superconductivity around holes, marked in white, in a thin sheet of superconducting film. Green indicates strong superconductivity. Further away from the holes, the superconductivity decreases, from yellow to red and finally to black, where the material is densely populated with vortices that interfere with superconductivity

Researchers believe they have cracked one of the major roadblocks to applying superconductor technology to the real world.

A team of researchers from Russia, Spain, Belgium, the UK and the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have announced they have discovered a way to efficiently stabilise tiny magnetic vortices that interfere with superconductivity.

The problem has plagued scientists trying to engineer real-world applications for decades and the discovery could remove one of the most significant obstacles to advances in superconductor technology.

When magnetic fields reach a certain strength they cause a superconductor to lose its superconductivity. There is a type of superconductor, known as "Type II", which are better at surviving in relatively high magnetic fields.

In these materials, magnetic fields create tiny whirlpools or "vortices" and while superconducting current continues to travel around these vortices to a point, eventually, as the magnetic field strengthens, the vortices begin to move about and interfere with the material's superconductivity, introducing resistance.

"These vortices dissipate the energy when moving under applied currents and bury all hopes for a technological revolution; unless we find ways to efficiently pin them," said Argonne Distinguished Fellow Valerii Vinokur, who co-authored the study.

Scientists have tried to immobilise these vortices for decades, but until now, they had only found ways to pin down the vortices in a restricted range of low temperatures and magnetic fields.

However, Vinokur and his colleagues discovered a surprise when using very thin superconducting wires just 50 nanometers in diameter which can accommodate only one row of vortices.

When they applied a high magnetic field, the vortices crowded together in long clusters and stopped moving – increasing the magnetic field restored the material's superconductivity, instead of destroying it.

Next, the team carved superconducting film into an array of holes so that only a few vortices could squeeze between the holes, where they stayed, unable to interfere with current.

The resistance of the superconductor dropped dramatically at temperatures and magnetic fields where no one has been able to pin vortices before, though the team has only experimented with low-temperature superconductors so far.

"The results were quite striking," Vinokur said. “There is no reason why the approach we used should be restricted to just low-temperature superconductors."

The paper, 'Magnetic field-induced dissipation-free state in superconducting nanostructures', is published this week in Nature Communications.

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1605

"We visit Barcelona, one of the smartest cities in the world, to find out what makes it so special. What does it look like and what is the future?"

E&T jobs

  • Senior Development Engineer, Electronics

    Premium job

    Helmet Integrated Systems / Gentex Corporation
    • Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
    • Competitive

    We are an innovative, robust and fast growing business, whose main focus is to deliver continues improvement to existing products and offer new sol..

    • Recruiter: Helmet Integrated Systems / Gentex Corporation

    Apply for this job

  • Smart Grid Research Engineer

    Premium job

    University of Strathclyde
    • Cumbernauld, Glasgow
    • Grade: 6/7* £26,537 - £37,768*

    Work as part of a growing dynamic team on a wide range of technical projects with particular emphasis on experimental validation and testing

    • Recruiter: University of Strathclyde

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Asset Specialist

    Affinity Water
    • Hatfield, Hertfordshire

    Responsible for updating and writing electrical engineering standards, approved codes of practice and safe systems of work

    • Recruiter: Affinity Water

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Electronics Engineer

    York Instruments
    • York, North Yorkshire

    Senior electronics engineer to work as part of a team developing an MEG imaging system; working with the engineering team and external contractors.

    • Recruiter: York Instruments

    Apply for this job

  • Manufacturing Engineer - Circuit Card Assembly

    MBDA
    • Lostock Junction
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What’s the opportunity?   Manufacturing UK is an integral part of the Operations Directorate whose principal mission is to ensure that MBDA’s deliverable commitments are met...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • High Voltage Engineer

    Premium job

    Essex X-Ray & Medical Equipment
    • Great Dunmow, Essex

    This High Voltage Engineer will provide design leadership for high voltage cable assemblies up to one megavolt.

    • Recruiter: Essex X-Ray & Medical Equipment

    Apply for this job

  • Team Leader - Flank Arrays

    BAE Systems
    • Barrow-In-Furness, Cumbria, England
    • Negotiable

    Team Leader - Flank Arrays Would you like to work in a unique role within the construction of the Astute Class submarines? We currently have a vacancy for a Team Leader - Flank Arrays at our site in Barrow-in-Furness. As a Team Leader - Flank Arrays, you

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Electronics and Software Engineer

    Copley Scientific Ltd
    • Nottingham
    • circa £35,000 per annum + bonus

    Develop new test equipment for the pharmaceutical industry. Good opportunities to grow and develop. Successful family-owned and managed business.

    • Recruiter: Copley Scientific Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Bridge Test Facility Manager

    BAE Systems
    • Shropshire, Telford, England
    • Negotiable

    Bridge Test Facility ManagerWe currently have a vacancy for a Bridge Test Facility Manager at our site in Telford with our Land UK business.As the Bridge Test Facility Manager, you will be part of our Test & Trials team, working closely with the Mili

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Intelligent Transport Systems Engineer - Highways Technology

    Premium job

    Mott MacDonald
    • Birmingham, West Midlands

    Our transport technology team in Birmingham is currently growing a highly skilled and customer-focused team to...

    • Recruiter: Mott MacDonald

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T