Think of a wire that can carry electricity without any loss of energy, like a magic trick where power just flows forever. That’s what superconductors are. A superconductor is a material that can conduct electricity with zero resistance.
It’s like a superhero of electricity, able to do things that normal wires just can’t. Furthermore, superconductors are like superheroes in other ways too. They can create incredibly strong magnetic fields, which is useful for things like medical imaging.
So, what’s the secret to their powers? It’s all about electrons, the tiny particles that carry electricity. In normal wires, electrons bump into things all the time, which slows them down and causes resistance. But in superconductors, the electrons pair up and move in perfect harmony.
This lets them glide through the material without any resistance, making them super-efficient electricity carriers. If you’d like to learn more about super conductors, stay with us as we demystify what you should know about superconductors in this article.
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Super Conductors Definition
A superconductor is a material that exhibits zero electrical resistance and expels magnetic fields when cooled below a certain temperature called the critical temperature.
This means that an electric current can flow through a superconductor indefinitely without any loss of energy.
How Do Superconductors Work?
Electricity can pass through regular conductors when a power source is applied. As this happens, resistance (when electrons move from atom to atom, occasionally colliding with nuclei alongside) occurs.
This procedure heats a material and uses energy. Thereafter, when that power source is withdrawn, the electrical current will stop. Superconductors, on the other hand, are different because of their special atomic structure, which keeps this electrical current flowing.
A superconductor is created when electrons are paired to align with the vibrating atoms of a material. So, these paired electrons are called Cooper pairs. They move away from each other at the same speed while spinning in opposing directions.
So, rather than following random paths, electrons move in unison with vibrating nuclei. They do this by navigating the oscillating waves that are shared by electrons and the material’s structure. This enables them to prevent scattering or collisions, which are the main causes of resistance.
Meanwhile, these pathways become more ordered as a material grows colder. Though it varies depending on the material, that value typically approaches absolute zero (the lowest point on the thermodynamic scale, which is measured at -459.67°F degrees Fahrenheit or 0°K).
In recent years, high-temperature superconductors were discovered. These materials, which are usually copper oxides, show superconductivity at warm temperatures that were previously thought to be unattainable. You can also cool them with liquid nitrogen, which maintains its temperature at 77 degrees Kelvin, or -321.1 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Materials Are Super Conductors Made From?
Superconductors of electricity are made from various materials including metals, alloys, and other materials such as carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, and organic materials. Each comes with its unique properties!
Niobium-titanium (NbTi): This workhorse alloy is the most common and affordable superconductor, used in MRI machines and other applications requiring moderate temperatures (-269°C).
Mercury (Hg): Mercury holds the record for the highest critical temperature at ambient pressure (-140°C), but its toxicity makes it impractical for most applications.
Lead (Pb): Lead is one of the first discovered superconductors, but its low temperature (-218°C) and toxicity limit its use.
Cuprates: These complex ceramic materials, like YBCO (yttrium barium copper oxide), are known for their high temperatures (up to -138°C). However, it requires complex and expensive fabrication processes.
Magnesium diboride (MgB2): This simple and inexpensive material has a high temperature (-232°C). However, it is being actively researched for power grid applications.
3. Other Materials
Fullerenes: These carbon-cage molecules can exhibit superconductivity at high pressures, but practical applications are still being explored.
Organic materials: Some organic polymers are superconductors of electricity. However, their temperatures are typically very low. Meanwhile, research is ongoing to improve their properties.
Carbon nanotubes: Single-walled carbon nanotubes have shown superconductivity at relatively high temperatures (-15°C). However, challenges remain in producing them in large quantities with consistent properties.
Applications of Superconductors
The application of superconductors varies greatly across various fields/areas. Some of these include the following:
1. Scientific Research
Superconductors are used to break ground in a wide range of scientific Fields due to their unique properties. Presently, scientists recruit superconductors to explore physics as particle accelerators alongside nanowire detectors while searching for subatomic particles and dark matter called neutrinos.
Superconducting magnets are the major components of MRI machines in diagnostic care. These machines use superconductive wiring to form their magnetic field, thereby increasing the penetrative power of radio frequencies to collect optimal imaging. Thus, the medical field is also exploring the use of electricity superconductors in cancer cell detection and magnetic drug delivery systems.
3. Power Transmission
Superconducting cables can hold very large currents without any power loss. Hence, this technology is a kind of ‘holy grail’ for upcoming electrical transmission networks and power grids. Further, there are various sorts of superconductive wiring that transfer electricity at 200 times the copper standard. These variations are undergoing trials and are government-funded.
4. Quantum Computers
Superconductors are capable of driving information processing to quantum speeds. A loop of electrical current known as a qubit, powers these quantum computers. These currents are maintained by superconductive materials. Since they can form the basis of quantum computers, superconductors will revolutionize information processing.
5. Maglev Trains
Superconducting magnets levitate and propel these high-speed trains, eliminating friction and enabling smooth, noise-free journeys at speeds exceeding 300 mph.
6. MEG (Magnetoencephalography)
Superconducting sensors detect tiny magnetic fields produced by brain activity, aiding in studying neurological disorders like epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
7. Electric Vehicles
Again, superconducting motors and batteries are being developed for electric vehicles. Thus, offering increased efficiency, longer range, and faster charging times.
8. Particle Accelerators
Superconductors in magnets guide and accelerate charged particles in particle accelerators. This enables groundbreaking research in particle physics and material science.
9. Fusion Energy
Finally, superconducting magnets confine the hot plasma required for nuclear fusion reactions, potentially leading to a clean and sustainable energy source.
So, to wrap this up, superconductors are the ultimate upgrade for electricity. Think of them as magic wires that allow the power to flow forever without any energy loss.
They’re like superheroes for electricity, zipping it around with no resistance and even doing cool tricks like levitating magnets and making super-strong fields.
However, these super-powered wires need a bit of a chill to work effectively. They have to be cooled down to super-cold temperatures, way below what your freezer can handle.
That’s why we’re still figuring out how to use them in everyday life, but the potential is huge!