Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered a way to significantly increase the amount of electric current carried by a high-temperature superconductor, a material that conducts electricity with no resistance. This is an important step in the drive to create superconductor-based electric and power-delivery devices, such as power transmission lines, motors, and generators. The results are explained in the September 12, 2005, online edition of Applied Physics Letters.
“In theory, superconducting materials can conduct an enormous amount of electric current. But when incorporated into actual devices, certain factors tend to limit the current,” said Brookhaven materials scientist Qiang Li, a co-author on the paper. “We studied these factors and found that one, which we call ‘substrate roughness,’ can actually significantly increase the current-carrying capacity.”
The superconducting material studied here consists of the elements yttrium, barium, copper, and oxygen. Dubbed YBCO, it is a member of a class of copper- and oxygen-containing superconductors called “cuprates.” Cuprates are “high-temperature” superconductors because they superconduct at temperatures much “warmer” than conventional superconductors (although still very cold) — for example, -300°F rather than -440°F. This difference, while not huge, is enough to make cuprates more viable for practical applications than materials that must be kept much colder.
Laura Mgrdichian | EurekAlert!
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