Surprising superconductor discovery could be the best one yet

2 May 2018

Image: Tschub/Shutterstock

Researchers have stumbled on a superconductor material that is incredibly powerful, drawing attention from the computing giants.

A superconductor – a material with zero electric interference when cooled to a critical temperature – has a wealth of potential applications, ranging from the development of powerful smart grids for cities, to highly advanced electronics.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder has admitted it is more than surprised at the effectiveness of a new superconductor it is experimenting with.

Future Human

In a paper published to Applied Physical Letters, the team described the recipe: an ultrathin layer of rhenium (Re) sandwiched between layers of gold, each measuring one 1,000th the diameter of a human hair, that can superconduct at a critical temperature of more than -267C.

Sheer magnitude unexpected

“The sheer magnitude of the critical temperature was unexpected,” said Don David, co-author of the paper. “We had been thinking for a while about ways to impart superconducting properties to gold and copper films, and we were surprised at how robust and effective the thin layer of electroplated Re was.”

While obtaining the ultra-cool temperatures needed for a superconductor to operate can be both incredibly expensive and difficult, this material has been shown to be ideal for use in circuit boards for next-generation computing applications.

Add to this the fact that it is easy to work with mechanically, is non-toxic and melts at high temperatures, and it is no surprise that it has already drawn attention from international computing giants.

Can be mass-produced

The discovery that Re was a fantastic superconductor came about after David and his team trialled a number of combinations of metals with no success, before his colleague Xian Wu suggested they use the hard, trace metal often used in the construction of jet engine turbines.

By integrating it into circuit boards, problems of heating caused by the flow of electrons will no longer be an issue, resulting in exceedingly fast and powerful computer systems.

While this is by no means the first superconductive material to surface, the paper presents evidence that electroplated Re may be the best material found to date for superconductive computer circuit board construction.

More impressively, the electroplating process could be easily scaled up to mass production, according to David.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic