The recent announcement of a new material exhibiting room-temperature superconductivity set the physics world ablaze with the thoughts of a new industrial revolution on the back of the new material, which could lead even to its potential use in superconducting circuits and, as postulated by the original authors of the paper, a possible qubit material. Of course, many of the kinks would need to be ironed out, but researchers around the globe were excited by the thoughts of what is purported to be a relatively easy-to-manufacture material. Several weeks on from the announcement, there have been attempts from researchers across the globe to replicate the results. So far, no group has effectively replicated the initial study, leading to disappointment.
Close, but no cigar
As of August 10, 2023, no superconductivity replication attempts have been peer-reviewed. Over a dozen significant labs failed to observe superconductivity, with some noting possible normal diamagnetism or ferromagnetism. Alternate explanations were suggested for the original findings. Only Southeast University reported low resistance in LK-99, indicating potential superconductivity, but experts doubted the claim due to measurement artefacts and inadequate instruments. The global visibility of replication efforts was aided by online trackers, and some researchers teased their results, attracting public attention.
Theoretical explanations for potential mechanisms of superconductivity in LK-99 are still incomplete. Simulations still appear largely inconclusive. Later analyses by other labs added simulations and theoretical evaluations of the material’s electronic properties from first principles have still yielded little tangible evidence. But of course, these simulations will continue to see if there is theoretical support for the claims of the initial claim. One claim from a group in Spain (P. Abramian, A. Kuzanyan) concludes LK-99 is likely a heterogenous material, making it hard for others to reproduce the original results. Therefore if making the material is simply very difficult, we could be in for a longer wait until more groups have effectively synthesised the same material as the Korean study.
Is it over for L99?
The promise is too much to let go of, but the weight of the evidence seems to fall against the original claim. Never say never, as science should always be open to new ideas and proof. The jury is still, therefore, out, and it’s only been a few weeks since the July announcement. However, there are already teams from China, the US, Germany, Spain and the UK who have reported unofficially that there is not the observed effect that the original group from Korea claimed.
Likely more research will continue to see if the claims can be substantiated. One great upshot, no matter the outcome, is that it has increased the interest in the field, which may lead to some more excitement in the area of materials. It seems long since futurists dreamt of maglev (magnetic levitation trains) trains suspended without friction on a bed of air by superconducting magnets. None of this future came to life, but hopefully, some excitement might once again spark the quest for better and newer materials and attract more funding.
Futurist Dreams smashed?
The dream of cheap superconductors represents a revolutionary aspiration in the field of physics and technology. Superconductors, materials that conduct electricity without resistance, have the potential to transform energy transmission, making it more efficient and lossless. However, current superconducting materials require extremely low temperatures, making them expensive and impractical for widespread use. Developing cheap, room-temperature superconductors would overcome these limitations, opening up new possibilities for innovation.
The impact of affordable superconductors on daily life would be profound. They could revolutionize the energy sector by enabling the creation of more efficient power grids, reducing energy waste, and lowering electricity costs for consumers. In transportation, superconducting magnets could lead to development of high-speed maglev trains, offering faster and more environmentally friendly travel options. Medical technologies like MRI machines could become more accessible and affordable, enhancing healthcare delivery across the globe.
Beyond these immediate applications, cheap superconductors promise to unlock new frontiers in science and technology. They could facilitate advancements in quantum computing, leading to more powerful and efficient computers. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar could be integrated more seamlessly into power grids, accelerating the transition to clean energy. Therefore, the dream of cheap superconductors is a scientific curiosity and a vision of a more sustainable, efficient, and connected world.
Of course, as people here will be most interested in, the path to L99 being useful in quantum devices is a long shot right now. That said, let’s give it some time to thoroughly evaluate other teams as the research rolls in.