Controlling Superconductors' Properties
For many applications, the electrical resistance of wires can be annoying, as it zaps away energy and heats the wire, potentially damaging it. A superconducting wire would not experience these problems though, as superconductors transmit electricity with no resistance, but materials only superconductor under special conditions. As the applications we may wish to use superconductors in do not produce those conditions, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory decided to experiment with defects, to see if they can tune the materials.
To make a material into a superconductor, it is necessary to cool it past a critical temperature, which can be quite cold, even for high-temperature superconductors. Luckily many applications, such as large-scale motors and generators, can operate at such low temperatures. Another requirement that may be harder to satisfy though concerns the magnetic field the superconductor may be exposed to. Generally magnetism will disrupt and destroy a superconducting state, if the field is strong enough. By carefully tweaking the non-superconducting defects added to superconducting wires, the ORNL researchers were able to achieve a record performance under conditions some applications are designed to operate at; 65 Kelvin and 3 Tesla.
To create and manipulate the defects, the researchers used a self-assembly process to affect the superconductors microstructure as it grew. Fortunately this process does not add much to production costs, so hopefully we will see industries attempting to apply superconductors to more existing and future technologies before long.
Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory