The New World of Superconductors

Quantum superconductors are fundamentally altering our understanding of what is possible, from maglev trains to laptop-sized MRI machines.

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Forget about old school hovercraft. Quantum superconductors are enabling technology that truly levitates – think high-speed maglev trains that can move at speeds over 500 km/h, all without wheels, with the train hovering above a guide. Superconductors are also being developed for medical imaging applications, including MRI. Andrea Damascelli, Director of the Quantum Matter Institute and professor at the University of British Columbia, is working on new materials that can superconduct at room temperature so that they do not need to be cooled to extreme temperatures, making these efficient technologies more practical.

Watching these materials in action is fascinating, because they behave in such a unique way. We are used to living in an electronic world with conductors (like electrical wires) and semi-conductors (such as the microchips in your computer) where materials rely on moving electrons. Superconductors have no electrical resistance, and therefore can circulate a current without losing any energy, making electrical devices more sustainable. They may also unlock the ability to make devices smaller, reducing the size of an MRI machine down to the size of a laptop.

Damascelli is working on engineering artificial materials that can be used as superconductors. Damascelli explains, “We have, for instance, been working on using graphene, which is a famous single layer of carbon atoms that led to the awarding of a Nobel prize a few years ago. We are now trying to turn this system which is a good conductor and a very strong material – stronger than steel into a superconductor.”

Want to learn more about quantum superconductors? Check out our blog on electromagnetism.

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Prof. Andrea Damascelli is a Full Professor at the University of British Columbia, a Canada Research chair in the Electronic Structure of Solids, and the leader of the Quantum Materials Laboratory at UBC and of the Quantum Materials Spectroscopy Center at the Canadian Light Source. He obtained his Bachelor at the University of Milan in 1994, and his PhD at the University of Groningen in 1999. After a postdoctoral stint at Stanford University, he moved to UBC in 2002 as an Assistant Professor, where he has remained ever since. Prof. Damascelli works in one of the most advanced areas of condensed matter physics — quantum materials — systems that exhibit new electronic properties, such as high-temperature superconductivity. His work has gained global recognition and helped make Canada a leader in the field of photoelectron spectroscopy — a highly sophisticated technique that images the energy and velocity of electrons propagating inside a material. He has been honored with prestigious fellowships, such as such as the Sloan, Killam, NSERC’s Steacie Memorial Fellowships, and the Humboldt Foundation’s Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. He is also a Kavli Fellow of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the CIFAR Quantum Materials Program.