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World's Smallest Superconductor Discovered

samzenpus posted about 4 years ago | from the none-more-small dept.

Science 72

arcticstoat writes "One of the barriers to the development of nanoscale electronics has potentially been eliminated, as scientists have discovered the world's smallest superconductor. Made up of four pairs of molecules, and measuring just 0.87nm, the superconductor could potentially be used as a nanoscale interconnect in electronic devices, but without the heat and power dissipation problems associated with standard metal conductors."

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72 comments

What temperature does this work at though?! (3, Insightful)

An Ominous Cow Erred (28892) | about 4 years ago | (#31695074)

This doesn't do us a lot of good in most applications if we have to cool our processors with liquid nitrogen.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (4, Informative)

An Ominous Cow Erred (28892) | about 4 years ago | (#31695140)

(To clarify, superconductors do NOT work at room temperature -- the best ones (and the only ones we can really consider in practical applications) require cooling with something like liquid nitrogen. Moreover, this molecule is designed for size, rather than temperature, so I wonder if they had to compromise on how low you have to cool it. The lower temperature superconductors require liquid helium cooling, which goes into ridiculously cold territory.)

The article does not seem to indicate the temperature that it works at.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31696692)

To clarify, superconductors do NOT YET work at room temperature

FTFY.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (2, Informative)

Ramze (640788) | about 4 years ago | (#31698604)

"Not Yet" implies that it's something that is believed to be possible... which it isn't.

Any physicist will tell you that super-conduction depends on keeping atoms in a specific tight arrangement. At room temperature, there is too much movement of atoms and space between them even in crystalline structures to allow for superconductivity. Superconductivity is a state of matter. There are no super-conducting gasses or liquids and there will very likely never be any super-conducting solids at room temperature -- ever. The hottest temperature known for any material to super-conduct is 133 kelvin = -220.27 degrees Fahrenheit. That's not much warmer than liquid nitrogen at around 77 K.

So, to clarify... superconductors will NEVER work at room temperature... at least according to the laws of physics as we understand them.

FTFY... anonymous coward with pie in the sky dreams and no understanding of the topic

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31698794)

Wikipedia is reporting 138K.

Still, it's a nice dream. Oh, and the Universe doesn't abide by the laws of physics as we understand them, but as they really are. I think there's bound to exciting discoveries made as our understanding advances. Room temp superconductivity may not be one of them, but I wouldn't rule it out so quickly. We've not been fooling around with superconductors for very long. (relatively speaking)

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 4 years ago | (#31698966)

"So, to clarify... superconductors will NEVER work at room temperature... at least according to the laws of physics as we understand them."

Why not? At 133K atoms move around quite a lot, so there might not be a strict requirement for temperature.

In fact, superconductivity-like phenomena (delocalized electrons in aromatic hydrocarbons, for example) are observed in some molecules for up to 500C (yes, that's about 700K).

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (2, Informative)

reverseengineer (580922) | about 4 years ago | (#31696972)

The abstract [nature.com] of the Nature Nanotechnology article notes the superconducting transition temperature for the bulk material is around 8 Kelvin, which is definitely liquid helium range (nitrogen boils at 77K). They do go on to note, however, that at very small levels of this molecule, the superconducting gap decays exponentially with the number of linked molecules, and that 4 pairs is the minimum number where any effect at all was seen. So I don't have an exact temperature, but at least liquid helium (boils at 4K), and just as a guess, the minimal four paired molecule version might be something that might only work at the millikelvin range. Those dilution refrigerators are rather bulky items.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 4 years ago | (#31697806)

Cut your arrogance. You sound like a physician.

To clarify, the superconductors we know do NOT work at room temperature yet

There, fixed that for ya.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Ramze (640788) | about 4 years ago | (#31698646)

Cut your arrogance, sir. "Not Yet" implies that it's something that is believed to be possible to achieve... which it isn't.

Any physicist will tell you that super-conduction depends on keeping atoms in a specific tight arrangement. At room temperature, there is too much movement of atoms and space between them even in crystalline structures to allow for superconductivity. Superconductivity is a state of matter. There are no super-conducting gasses or liquids (and there never will be!) and there will very likely never be any super-conducting solids at room temperature -- ever. The hottest temperature known for any material to super-conduct is 133 kelvin = -220.27 degrees Fahrenheit. That's not much warmer than liquid nitrogen at around 77 K.

It's not arrogance to say that superconductors will NEVER work at room temperature... at least according to the laws of physics as we understand them.

The colder super conductors work because atoms mesh into a quantum state only possible at cold temperatures. The hotter ones appear to work by aligning electrical spin of electrons -- a completely different method, but it too stops working above a certain threshold of heat. Heat adds motion and disorder to the system causing a breakdown in the state of matter.

To clarify, there will NEVER be a room temperature superconductor. It's literally impossible at room temperature to achieve the state of organized matter necessary to provide superconduction. To say otherwise is as ridiculous as saying one day we'll have a super-conducting gas (duh... gasses can never super-conduct either... nor can liquids).

There, fixed that for ya...

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Lord Crc (151920) | about 4 years ago | (#31698810)

It's not arrogance to say that superconductors will NEVER work at room temperature... at least according to the laws of physics as we understand them.

What's the theoretical upper limit?

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31703140)

Stop using so many parentheses you dolt.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (4, Funny)

ls -la (937805) | about 4 years ago | (#31695220)

This doesn't do us a lot of good in most applications if we have to cool our processors with liquid nitrogen.

Except that most slashdotters already cool their systems with liquid nitrogen, or would love the excuse to make it so.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

jonadab (583620) | about 4 years ago | (#31696252)

Nah, liquid nitrogen is for wannabes. Liquid helium is a little better, but what you really want is a solid metallic-hydrogen heat pipe...

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (3, Insightful)

corbettw (214229) | about 4 years ago | (#31696552)

I chill my system using a picture of my ex-wife glaring into the camera. Nothing beats that.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31697560)

And you fucked her...well at least I hope you did.

Fucking breaks the ice-queens.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Denihil (1208200) | about 4 years ago | (#31697716)

I don't think that's true, or else there'd be no ice queen wives. And trust me, i've seen some frigid wifeys. Approaching Absolute Zero cold. You could fuck her and call it a eskimo pie cold.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 4 years ago | (#31698470)

I chill my system using a picture of my ex-wife glaring into the camera. Nothing beats that.

You married a woman who was not hot? Hand in your geek card at once!

My first question as well... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | about 4 years ago | (#31695256)

It has no use in CPU processing until it works at CPU temperatures. Yes, it would decrease the CPU operating temperature, but it still needs to handle the heat of nearby transistors and at the very least ROOM TEMPERATURES.

Re:My first question as well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695296)

My first question, and the only question that matters, really, is, can it blend?

Re:My first question as well... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | about 4 years ago | (#31696000)

I thought the question was, will it blend?

http://www.blendtec.com/willitblend/videos.aspx?type=unsafe&video=airsoftgun

Re:My first question as well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695642)

It has no use in CPU processing until it works at CPU temperatures. Yes, it would decrease the CPU operating temperature, but it still needs to handle the heat of nearby transistors and at the very least ROOM TEMPERATURES.

Why? Computers have used cryogenic equipment before. And one of the benefits to superconductivity is that it doesn't make much heat. With proper insulation there shouldn't be too much maintenance to keep the temperatures cold (and the cryo equipment would, by definition, deal with all heat loads). Perhaps the real limitation here is the design of small energy efficient cryogenic coolers.

I see no more reason for your microprocessor to operate at room temperatures than for the filament of a light bulb to operate at room temperatures. It is not as if you are going to have to touch it.

Re:My first question as well... (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | about 4 years ago | (#31699774)

While the wire interconnects would not dissipate any power as heat, the transistors would continue to do so. This heat would warm the surrounding superconductors, meaning additional cooling. The vast majority of the heat generated by the processor comes from the transistors, the only ways to reduce it are to reduce the voltage, on-resistance, frequency, or capacitance, or to increase the off-resistance.

So, we still need to find a transistor with nearly 0 on-resistance and nearly infinite off-resistance before this kind of interconnect (which would be expensive to produce and maintain) would be worth investing in. Why spend so much time and effort to reduce 10% of the power consumption, when the other 90+% greatly reduces the efficiency of your efforts?

Re:My first question as well... (1)

English French Man (1220122) | about 4 years ago | (#31700108)

Because cooling it below 100 K is going to need very efficient insulation, as the temperature gradient is going to be enormous. Cooling below 100 K is probably not going to be cost efficient for anyone except perhaps big companies.

Re:My first question as well... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 4 years ago | (#31700652)

This is an insightful comment. Typically a CPU on a typical desktop computer operates at temperatures that are comparable to the heating element of a kitchen stove top. The reason for this is largely due to inefficiencies and the fact that current materials can operate at that temperature, so it isn't that big of a deal.

Most of the earlier computers from the 1970's and earlier (not the micros, but the mini computers and mainframes) all required some sort of significant environmental control system, including flat out refrigeration equipment to keep the components at a reasonable operating temperature. Water cooled circuits weren't unknown either. From this perspective, it wouldn't even be new territory in terms of requiring cooling circuits down to at least liquid nitrogen temperatures if this was useful.

I don't see this as something you would put into an iPod or some portable consumer electronics package, but it could be useful for high-end computer research and for machines that have to do some significant number crunching.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (5, Informative)

rnaiguy (1304181) | about 4 years ago | (#31695394)

It needs to be below ~8k (from the article abstract) . Not even liquid nitrogen is enough, need liquid helium.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (2, Informative)

msauve (701917) | about 4 years ago | (#31695584)

ITYM "8 K".

SI units are capitalized when the name of the unit is derived from the name of a person.

source [nist.gov]

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Anpheus (908711) | about 4 years ago | (#31695766)

I didn't know the Library of Congress was named after someone? Was there an ancient librarian named Mr. Congress?

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695956)

Yes, Mr Sexual Congress.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 4 years ago | (#31697822)

That’s not what’s important. What’s important, is that “k” stands for the prefix “kilo”. and 8 kilo can only make sense in countries that colloquially use it for “kilogram”.

Same problem as “640 Kelvin-Bytes ought to be enough for anybody.” ^^
Only Qalculate!, interpreting “MB” as “Megabarns” by default, can beat that!

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 4 years ago | (#31698486)

Only Qalculate!, interpreting "MB" as "Megabarns" by default, can beat that!

Qualculate! being a programme that provides some services to the housing sales industry?

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

PingPongBoy (303994) | about 4 years ago | (#31697770)

I will gladly spend energy on the refrigeration so that the processor won't use so much!

The system works against me though - the processor dissipates massive amounts of energy that requires more energy to remove quickly with cooling.

So what is more efficient in terms of energy consumption? A massive library that millions of people have contributed to over the eons, culminating in all the knowledge that I could ever want, and therefore any computation I need is achieved by a look-up? Or a supercomputer with outrageous power levels but able to give me results in the same amount of time? A deciding question may be whether high-temperature superconductors are possible.

With no mega library in sight, any advancement in processing speed is a good thing, by Jove.

Re:What temperature does this work at though?! (1)

Redlazer (786403) | about 4 years ago | (#31696110)

So you're telling me a recently discovered technology isn't perfect?

The important thing here is that we found one physically smaller than anything else. Superconductors are also a pretty Big Deal - their unique properties are very handy in certain applications.

Which is the point: it kicks open the doors of "...We just need something smaller". The consumer market is where stuff like this gets eventually. The applications for industry, development, and who knows what else could be far and wide.

Your cynicism makes me sad. : (

World's smallest superconductor walks into a bar.. (5, Funny)

calibre-not-output (1736770) | about 4 years ago | (#31695278)

The bartender says "We don't serve superconductors in this bar." The world's smallest superconductor leaves without putting up any resistance.

Re:World's smallest superconductor walks into a ba (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695302)

-1 groan

Re:World's smallest superconductor walks into a ba (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695430)

But just then, Catalyst Jane walked in and heated things up, leaving him dazed, with his electrons spinning, and his animal anti-magnetism melted away.

Re:World's smallest superconductor walks into a ba (2, Funny)

Cor-cor (1330671) | about 4 years ago | (#31698012)

That's strange, the bartender usually has such a magnetic personality.

Critical temperature (5, Insightful)

Takionbrst (1772396) | about 4 years ago | (#31695386)

Doing research in a solid state physics lab, I can tell you that this article is worth nothing without the inclusion of the critical temperature Tc at which the "superconductor" starts working. Given that its some sort of ceramic, its a class II superconductor which means that it could possibly be one of the "high Tc" superconductors, a misleading title because they do still need to be cooled with LN2 (just not liquid helium, a much more expensive/difficult prospect). If their "superconductor" only works at .7 kelvin, it's not very impressive--there are lots of materials that do that. To quote (more or less) one of my lab mates "if I dunked my cat in liquid helium, it would probably begin to superconduct." In summary, the devil is in the details.

Re:Critical temperature (4, Funny)

nebaz (453974) | about 4 years ago | (#31695634)

"if I dunked my cat in liquid helium, it would probably begin to superconduct."

Icanhazsooperkundukter?

(sorry)

Re:Critical temperature (4, Funny)

HiggsBison (678319) | about 4 years ago | (#31695676)

To quote (more or less) one of my lab mates "if I dunked my cat in liquid helium, it would probably begin to superconduct."

"Probably"? So the cat might superconduct, and it might not. Sort of a Shrödinger's superconductor? Is that what you're getting at?

Re:Critical temperature (2, Funny)

peragrin (659227) | about 4 years ago | (#31696130)

think of the effect if you then tied a piece of buttered toast to the back of the cat and tossed it.

The worlds first perpetual motion motion. a super conducting frozen, cat trying to land on it's feet while toast tries to land butter side down.

Re:Critical temperature (1)

Thoughts from Englan (1212556) | about 4 years ago | (#31698406)

think of the effect if you then tied a piece of buttered toast to the back of the cat and tossed it.

The worlds first perpetual motion motion. a super conducting frozen, cat trying to land on it's feet while toast tries to land butter side down.

...and as a bonus you get an anti-gravity system.

Re:Critical temperature (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | about 4 years ago | (#31698478)

...and as a bonus you get an anti-gravity system.

Spinning-cat-powered-personal-flying-machines for everyone!

Stock responses (1)

HiggsBison (678319) | about 4 years ago | (#31701496)

Think of the effect if you then tied a piece of buttered toast to the back of the cat and tossed it.

...superconducting, frozen buttered toast, of course.

Hey! HEY! I'm reporting you to both the American and Royal Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Toast!

Lisa! In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

Re:Critical temperature (5, Interesting)

Compuser (14899) | about 4 years ago | (#31695722)

First, this is not a type II. It's not a BCS superconductor at all.
In fact, given that they do not show Meissner effect, one wonders how they conclude it is a superconductor. Heck, the paper does not even show resistance - just a density of states which is depressed at Fermi level. That could be due to anything (like a CDW). This paper seems like it is full of shit until proven otherwise. I would not pass it if I were the reviewer.

Re:Critical temperature (1)

Takionbrst (1772396) | about 4 years ago | (#31696022)

Yeah, I figured the literature was probably fluff so I didn't even bother to track it down. It's interesting that they can't even show an expulsion of flux--my experience has been that you can take quite a few ceramics and throw them into a SQUID and see the "Meissner" effect... but when you try and measure resistivity it's always finite but measurable. Seems they didn't even get that far...

Re:Critical temperature (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695746)

if I dunked my cat in liquid helium, it would probably begin to superconduct

That would also make him one cool cat.

In summary, the devil is in the details.

In summary, the devil is in you if you're dunking cats in liquid helium.

Re:Critical temperature (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31696320)

What about dunking cats in cheezburgers?

HEP cats... er, carts (1)

HiggsBison (678319) | about 4 years ago | (#31701612)

That would also make him one cool cat.

Argonne National Laboratory has an open house every several years. In the High Energy Physics (HEP) building, I spotted an empty cart with "HEP" stenciled on it. Yes, I have a picture of it. It wasn't a cool cat, or even a hep cat. It was a HEP cart. Close enough for jazz as far as I'm concerned.

Re:Critical temperature (1)

noidentity (188756) | about 4 years ago | (#31696202)

To quote (more or less) one of my lab mates "if I dunked my cat in liquid helium, it would probably begin to superconduct."

Yes, but would it still work afterwards?

Re:Critical temperature (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31697142)

Yes, but would it still work afterwards?

Of course not. Cats don't work anyway.

Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31695858)

Can anyone explain this to a reasonably intelligent, non-physicist? The wikipedia articles are too jargon heavy.

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (0, Offtopic)

ModernGeek (601932) | about 4 years ago | (#31696288)

I know that certain fluids and such only behave a certain way at a super low temperature. I'm pretty certain that this molecule, that is probably a super tiny transistor, only behaves as such at a super low temperature. The step from, "small set of moleculesthat will act like a transistor" to "supercomputer" is a very large one, the same as almost every other thing like quantum computing where the end message will change if read by a man in the middle. The title is simply to get your attention, this is no supercomputer, this is an impractical transistor for a processor that will probably never exist.

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (1)

JSBiff (87824) | about 4 years ago | (#31696520)

Wow, are we even reading the same article? The article is about superCONDUCTORS not superCOMPUTORS. Nobody said anything at all about transistors.

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (1)

tukang (1209392) | about 4 years ago | (#31696756)

IIRC it's because atoms get excited by heat (i.e. they move) so when they're cooled they stand perfectly still and offer no resistance to the charge flowing through it.

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (4, Informative)

colonelquesadilla (1693356) | about 4 years ago | (#31697882)

OK forget everything your highschool chemistry teacher taught you. There are fermions, and bosons, in a horribly oversimplified sense fermions aren't allowed to be in the same place at the same time, bosons are. In certain crystals, at low temperatures, electrons pair up, in what are called cooper pairs, and become bosons instead of fermions, they then are allowed to occupy the same space at the same time. When this happens the material becomes super conductive, because the electrons are indistinguishable from one another and can pass through any point without having to change energy levels and therefore being scattered.

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31698344)

Got it. Magic.

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31699186)

You lost me after "OK."

Re:Why does supercooling lead to superconductivity (1)

colonelquesadilla (1693356) | about 4 years ago | (#31697862)

Jargons are a new area of physics, a small number of exotic particles have been known since antiquity to baffle the layman. Recently through QFT, QED, QCD and other quantum field theories, these have been combined under the categories of spin 0 massless weakly interacting Jargons. Wikipedia has a great number of these, unfortunately they are a result of photon scattering in photonic fibers. These particles collect on web sites that attract a large number of physicists and wreak havoc on normal society, an number of DARPA initiatives have been aimed at the creation of a corresponding antiparticle using synchrotrons and other high energy accelerators.

Too short a distance with an impossible junction (1)

Yevoc (1389497) | about 4 years ago | (#31696168)

It is worth noting that much (silicon included) doesn't scatter electrons over such a short range, so a great many materials could technically be quantified as superconductors on this scale.
The reason such small things aren't normally touted as "superconducting" is because the contact resistance with something so small becomes so amazingly large that the whole reason of having a superconductor is destroyed. This is precisely why the superconducting regimes of graphene and nanotubes aren't practical: forming a decent contact is not doable at present.

Because of this, it is far more important to create a superconducting wire of substantial length to save power, as resistance scales with length anyway.

Re:Too short a distance with an impossible junctio (1)

colonelquesadilla (1693356) | about 4 years ago | (#31697890)

There are notable differences, but you're right, it's not necessarily useful. Superconductors are perfect diamagnets, however, excluding magnetic fields completely, perfect conductors will not do this.

superconductor placed on a silver substrate (3, Interesting)

viking80 (697716) | about 4 years ago | (#31696350)

The superconductor is a type of organic salt placed on a silver substrate

I wonder how they test for superconductivity when placing this tiny conductor on a substrate of massive silver, known as the best conductor there is, excluding superconductors.

Psh. (1, Insightful)

naturaverl (628952) | about 4 years ago | (#31696366)

That's nothing. I've got an infinite number of superconductors right here that are exactly 0 nm in size. And they'll even work at room temperature!

Huzzah! (1)

h4x0t (1245872) | about 4 years ago | (#31696540)

My recent OU Science degree is now worth that much more...

Also, congrats to Hla and his group.

not important at nanoscale (1)

colonelquesadilla (1693356) | about 4 years ago | (#31697828)

I don't care to read the comments, someone probably mentioned this, mod me down if they did, but superconductors are great, though they aren't necessary for saving energy at the nanoscale. A number of things are close to perfect normal everyday conductors at this scale, notably graphene and single walled nanotubes. They have a very low effective electron mass, meaning that over nanoscales the charge carriers will experience no collisions at all. Superconductors are superconductors due to electrons condensing into pairs that are bosons, allowing them to pass through each other without scattering, if there are no scattering events because the feature size is much smaller than the mean free path, there isn't much advantage.
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