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.