Superconducted Superexcitement

The world of physics has been dazzled in recent weeks by a succession of announcements from around the globe of breakthroughs in superconductivity--the ability of a substance to transmit electricity without losing some of it. We can't recall a time when scientific breakthroughs in one area have been clustered so cheek by jowl. Yesterday's discoveries are old hat by tomorrow.

Up till now, the highly desirable (and extremely useful) property of superconductivity was achievable only at temperatures near absolute zero (-459 degrees Fahrenheit), which is difficult and expensive to reach and maintain. Now physicists have reported on at least eight materials that become superconducting at -298 degrees Fahrenheit, and they think that they can make still more materials that will be superconducting at room temperature. The applications of such materials range from energy storage and transmission to magnetic imaging machines for medicine to smaller motors and faster supercomputers. Every electrical device that we know may be affected.

Several thousand physicists scurried to New York last week for a hastily called meeting to review the progress, and the meeting reportedly had more of the flavor of a football rally than a working scientific session. Participants in this work are extremely excited by the sudden and rapid progress in scores of laboratories. Rarely do scientists abandon caution with such abandon in predicting wide applicability of their work. There is also a theoretical side to this endeavor: Physicists aren't yet sure of the physics of their discoveries. They may have to rewrite their theories of electricity to account for superconductivity at temperatures much higher than previously thought possible.

As always, there is much work yet to be done. To which we say: Go for it!

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