Tech

Has Room-Temperature Superconductivity Finally Arrived? Early Experiments Spark Debate

After ChatGPT, another new technology has entered the eyes of all mankind.

Ten days ago, a team of scientists in South Korea published two papers in a row, claiming that they had discovered the world’s first room temperature superconducting material – LK-99 (a copper-doped lead apatite crystal). They even disclosed the production technology of LK-99, and then the whole world set off a frenzy of preparing materials and replicating experiments.

As of the afternoon of August 1, the laboratories of China, the United States and Russia announced at the same time that they had initially verified some superconducting signs of the superconducting crystal LK-99. Among them, Huazhong University of Science and Technology successfully reproduced the LK-99 magnetic levitation experiment. The up master of station B “Guanshankou Male Technician” released a video showing the spontaneous lifting of the sample in the magnetic field. The angle of the crystal levitation is larger than the sample magnetic levitation angle obtained by South Korea and others. The number of video views exceeded 4.5 million in just 9 hours.

Since 1911, Dutch scientist Camerin Onners observed the superconductivity of mercury at minus 269 degrees Celsius, “how to realize superconductivity under normal conditions” has been the goal pursued by the academic community for 100 years. The reason why we are tireless is closely related to the energy revolution it brings.

It is fundamentally different from high-temperature and low-temperature superconductivity: if superconductivity can be achieved at room temperature, power transmission and distribution systems will not cause any energy loss due to almost zero resistance. This means that the energy of photovoltaic and wind power can be transmitted over long distances, and the price of electricity will drop sharply; magnetic levitation will become a reality; and technological breakthroughs in other fields will be accelerated, such as controllable nuclear fusion. Controllable nuclear fusion is also the direction that Chinese investment institutions are vying to enter. For example, Xinghuan Energy Concentration , Energy Singularity , and Yixi Technology are all hot projects in the past two years.

The first to get excited is the secondary market. A-share room-temperature superconducting concept stocks exploded collectively. Fasten had three daily limits in 5 days. Yongding shares, Zhongchao Holdings, Baili Electric, Zhongfu Industrial and other stocks had daily limits. The new material 50ETF holdings of Western Superconducting rose by more than 7 %, while American Superconductor stock AMSC once rose to 150% before the market.

The primary market is also undercurrent. “The Huake venture capital circle exploded, and they said they would wait for a few years to pull the team out to start a business.” A hard technology investor and Huake alumnus quickly launched a dedicated material venture capital community after confirming the news to the School of Materials , “We are going to invite R&D experts in the fields of Huake Materials and Optoelectronics (the strongest team in China’s Optics Valley) first, and at the same time gather outstanding entrepreneurs and hard technology investors. Initially, there will be no more than 100 people.” A community operator told “Darkness Chung Waves”.

There is a similar description to ChatGPT – many people think that once the room temperature superconducting experiment is successful, it will symbolize the opening of the fourth industrial revolution of mankind.

“Undercurrent Waves” connected a number of scientific research background investors and industry experts at the same time. Most of them were relatively calm: this may be a breakthrough for the entire superconducting field, but “the successful reproduction of magnetic levitation can only prove LK-99 has a certain degree of diamagnetism, which does not prove that it has the room temperature superconducting characteristics claimed by the Korean team.”

Zhongke Chuangxing is one of the earliest institutions in China to deploy superconducting materials. Its founding partner Mi Lei told us that due to the high threshold of superconducting technology and the long industrialization cycle, there were not many investment targets in this field before. But in the past two years, with new breakthroughs in technologies such as high-temperature superconductivity and miniaturized fusion devices, there have been more and more entrepreneurial projects. Although Mi Lei believes that the energy revolution in the next 60 years will indeed rely on breakthroughs in superconducting materials, he also admits that room-temperature superconductivity must first solve the problems that have been proven in the laboratory.

Based on the opinions of many interviewees, judging from the current experimental results in various countries (even the source of South Korea), it cannot be directly inferred that the heaven-defying room temperature superconducting material will be born from this . Didn’t go through”.

One background is that the oxygen, phosphorus, lead, copper, etc. in the room temperature superconducting material system claimed by South Korea are easy to obtain and cheap. Simply put, copper is added to some known substances, and then copper is added. The new substance formed through chemical reaction is LK-99.

From the perspective of the synthesis process, it is indeed a bit simple and crude. The first step is to mix lead oxide and lead sulfate powder in a ratio of 1:1, heat it to 725 degrees in the air and burn it for 24 hours to form chalcopyrite crystals; then heat copper and phosphorus powder in a sealed tube at 480 degrees for 48 hours. hours, the formation of cuprous phosphide crystals; finally, after mixing the two crystal powders burned out, they are heated in a sealed tube for 5-20 hours to form a copper-doped lead apatite, which has room temperature superconductivity performance.

A self-media person named “Yuanfang Aoki” believes: “The method announced by the Korean team this time is comparable to ancient alchemy. It is to throw a pile of powder materials into the furnace and burn them. After the burning, superconductors will emerge from the inside. The equipment requirements are as low as high school. It can be done in the laboratory, and the process is so simple that anyone can do it.”

Since it is so simple, why did South Korea make it first? An investor with a Ph.D. background in physics told “Undercurrent Waves” that humans have long proposed a method for preparing room temperature superconductors—that is, to use the pressure between particles to lock the particles together. And the South Korean team who burned different materials just achieved the feat of locking the particles to each other.

“It’s hard to say that this is not a coincidence. This synthesis method is more like winning the lottery.” The above-mentioned investor told us that the synthesis process seems simple on the surface, but in fact it is too complicated, “because the copper atoms need to be precisely regulated At the unstable point of superconductivity (that is, to control the position of copper), the biggest difficulty is precisely here-the movement of copper particles cannot be directional controlled, and only a small part of the copper in the crystal will be exactly in the correct position. Location.”

This may explain why, ten days after the South Korean team announced the results, so many laboratories around the world conducted recurring experiments, and in the end only China and Russia produced two tiny samples, and all others failed.

True superconductivity refers to the state in which the electrical resistance of a conductor is zero under certain conditions. In the opinion of many industry experts, to define whether LK-99 is a room temperature superconductor, the key is to see whether the follow-up experiments have zero resistance characteristics. “This will be the only milestone.”

In fact, whether in Korea or internationally, the authenticity of the research results is still inconclusive. There was even news this morning that members of the research team said that the paper was flawed and that a member of the team released it without authorization, and the team has requested that the paper be removed from the shelves.

And this time Huake’s experimental results were first published at station B, which is also a somewhat surprising thing. A researcher told us that if you want to share research results before peer review, arXiv is a good choice (that is, where Korean scientists published two papers), which is a website that collects preprints of papers. He believes that uploading videos on station B is not the first choice for the release of scientific research results, “it is impossible for the scientific research team not to know.”

In short, technology is indeed a promising and promising technology, but it is still too early.

But judging from the performance of various social media on August 1, people, especially those in the venture capital circle, almost went crazy. Judging from the wave after wave of technology triggered by ChatGPT last year, arguments such as “human beings will be subverted by XX” continue to stir the nerves of the primary market. To their excitement and horror, many industries will live and die, take off and fall, by these arcane technical terms. On the evening of August 1, a venture capital institution temporarily organized an online superconductivity seminar, which quickly attracted nearly 300 people to participate online.

This is of course inevitable in today’s world where everyone is investing heavily in technology and technology. After all, the core driving force of the business wave has always been derived from the underlying technological changes. But the anxiety caused by technological iteration in the business world is also unprecedented. Many technology investors have estimated the number of us, and it may take at least 5 years before room temperature superconductivity will become relevant to the industry.

In the face of the unknown and anxiety, high alert is a kind of self-protection. Just like in the movie “Avatar”, humans discovered a rare room temperature superconductor-Unobtanium on the planet Pandora. In order to obtain such materials in large quantities, human agencies have tried their best to invade Pandora.

In any case, the bullet had to fly a little longer.

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