(Editor's note: A March 17 story about new research on the potential superconducting properties of the material silane contained numerous errors. They are corrected below.)
A Canadian-German research team has reported what they say is the first evidence that superconductivity can occur in a common gaseous hydrogen compound -- silane -- when compressed to a solid at very high pressure.
The finding, first published in the journal Science, promises to advance the design of more efficient superconducting materials that could be used for a variety of applications, the researchers said.
"Our research in this area is aimed at improving the critical temperature for superconductivity so that new superconductors can be operated at higher temperatures," said John Tse, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science at the University of Saskatchewan.
Tse carried out the theoretical work with doctoral candidate Yansun Yao using Canada's WestGrid computing facility. Experimental work was carried out by researcher Mikhail Eremets of the Max Planck Institute of Germany.
The new family of superconductors is based on a hydrogen-containing compound called silane, the silicon analog of methane. Silane combines a single silicon atom with four hydrogen atoms to form a molecular hydride. (Methane combines a single carbon atom with four hydrogen atoms.)
Researchers have long speculated that hydrogen under enough pressure would superconduct, but have so far been unable to achieve the necessary conditions since hydrogen is difficult to compress to the density required for superconductivity. The Canadian and German researchers attributed their success to using a hydrogen-rich compound with silicon that reduced the amount of compression needed to achieve superconductivity.
In separate research, Tse's team is using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to characterize the high-pressure structures of other hydrides as potential superconducting materials for industrial applications as well as a storage mechanism for hydrogen fuel cells.
The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Research Chairs program, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Max Planck Institute.