PORTLAND, Ore. -- The discovery of asymmetries in the formation of liquid crystals eventually led to their control. The result was the liquid-crystal display. Now, researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory believe they have found similar asymmetries in the formation of superconductors, potentially leading to their control and subsequent room-temperature operation.
At super low temperatures, many materials behave as superconductors, conducting electricity without resistance. As their temperature rises the unrestricted flow of electricity fades. Researchers at Brookhaven Labs (Upton, N.Y.) have cataloged asymmetries that simultaneously arise when superconductivity fades, potentially explaining the behavior in a way that engineers could harness to raise their temperature while maintaining superconducting property.
Using spectroscopic imaging scanning tunneling microscopy, the researchers said they measured the ease with which electrons can jump from the material's surface to the microscope's tip, discovering asymmetries within the molecular lattice of the material.
Next, the researchers said they plan to investigate how the change in asymmetry affects the resistance-less flow of electricity in potential room-temperature superconductors. They then hope to find a method for enabling them to maintain their superconductivity at higher temperatures.
The Brookhaven researchers collaborated with colleagues at Binghamton University, Cornell University, the University of Tokyo, the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology of South Korea, the Riken Laboratory of Japan and Japan’s Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
Superconductivity insights have built up so many false hopes over the years that they are hard to take seriously anymore. Researchers have repeatedly published "breakthrough" ideas for room temperature superconductivity that have either flopped altogether, or which only resulted in raising the temperature by a few degrees. Brookhaven National Labs claims its insight is different, since the Lab has revealed an asymmetry reminiscent of the asymmetry that preceded commercialization of LCD displays. While I wish them well, and hope that their insight does lead to room temperature superconductivity, I personally am not holding my breath. Instead I am reciting the matras my grandmother continually spouted about "crying wolf," "proof is in the pudding," and "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.