A predicted superconductor might work at a record-breaking 200° Celsius

The hydrogen-rich material would still need to be squeezed to extremely high pressures

theoretical superconductor
A theoretical type of superconductor, made of atoms of lithium (illustrated in green), magnesium (blue) and hydrogen (red), could function even at temperatures above the boiling point of water, scientists say.H. LIU

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By Emily Conover

9 HOURS AGO

The steamiest summer day would be no sweat for this potential superconductor.

Scientists have calculated that a hydrogen-rich compound could conduct electricity without resistance at temperatures up to about 200° Celsius — well above the 100° C boiling point of water. If that prediction is confirmed experimentally, the material would stand in stark contrast to all other known superconductors, which must be cooled below room temperature to work (SN: 12/15/15).

Superconductors’ need for cool conditions makes them difficult to use. So physicists are on a quest to find a superconductor that can stand the heat, which could revolutionize how electricity is transmitted and save vast amounts of energy.

The newly predicted superconductor — a compound of hydrogen, magnesium and lithium — comes with its own complications, however. It must be squeezed to extremely high pressure, nearly 2.5 million times the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, physicist Hanyu Liu and colleagues, of Jilin University in Changchun, China, report in the Aug. 30 Physical Review Letters.

Scientists previously have used similar techniques to predict that a pressurized compound of lanthanum and hydrogen would be superconducting at higher temperatures than any yet known. That prediction seems likely to be correct: In 2018, physicist Russell Hemley and colleagues reported signs that the compound is superconducting up to a record-breaking −13° C (SN: 9/10/18).

If the new calculation is confirmed, the purported superconductor would smash Hemley and colleagues’ temperature record. “This is an important prediction using a level of theory that has proven quite accurate,” says Hemley, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved in the research.

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