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Pinching holes to create superconductors

In their quest for materials that conduct electricity without resistance at moderate temperatures, scientists usually work on their chemical make-up. Now Leiden physicists have come up with a radically new approach: pinching holes in a periodic pattern. Publication in SciPost.

Ever since the discovery of superconductivity in 1911 in Leiden, physicists have searched for materials that would conduct electricity without resistance at room temperature, instead of only in ultra-cold environments. For decades, the focus has been on the chemical make-up. However, Leiden physicist Milan Allan and his group take a radically different approach.

Metamaterials

Materials owe their properties not just to the molecules they consist of, but also to their structure. Sometimes structure is even the deciding factor for a material’s behavior, as previous research in soft matter physics has shown. Researchers create new so-called metamaterials by carefully designing their structure. Now Allan’s group has come up with a way to pull this trick at the nanoscale, with the intention to convert regular materials into superconductors.

Holes

The physicists have devised a theory in which a periodic pattern of holes—only a few nanometers in size—will allow electric currents to move through a material without resistance. The team explains their method in an article published in SciPost. ‘The equations tell us that this should work,’ says Allan. ‘We get this from both computer simulations and analytical work.’

Credit: Joey Braspenning

Big impact

If the theory turns out to hold experimentally, it would make a huge difference in our society. Allan: ‘Even if this leads to superconductivity at temperatures of only a few degrees higher, it would save tremendous costs for a billion-euro industry like MRI machines. That is also why we filed a patent, with the help of LURIS.’ Other applications include high-precision sensing devices.

Driven by students

The author list on the publication shows the large extent to which Physics students in Leiden are involved in real science; half of the authors are Bachelor or Master students who worked on the project during their studies. At the moment, other Bachelor students are working on experimental realizations of the new theory.

The paper is published in a new journal called SciPost, which was founded in The Netherlands and is characterized by its transparancy and openness.

Publication

Milan P. Allan, Mark H. Fischer, Oliver Ostojic and Arjo Andringa, 'Creating better superconductors by periodic nanopatterning', SciPost