LK-99: The Quest for a Room-Temperature Superconductor | 07 Aug 2023

Source: TH

Why in News?

A group of South Korean scientists have recently claimed the discovery of a material they named LK-99. According to their reports, LK-99 is a superconductor at room temperature and pressure.

  • This groundbreaking claim has piqued the interest of the scientific community and could potentially revolutionize the world of electrical conductivity and technology.

What does the Claim on Discovery of LK-99 Suggest?

  • Exploring Apatite Materials: The South Korean group's discovery involved a rather unexpected material called apatite.
    • Apatites are minerals with a phosphate scaffold in a tetrahedral or pyramidal motif(one phosphorus atom is surrounded by four oxygen atoms).
    • The scientists started with lead apatite and substituted some of the lead atoms with copper, resulting in copper-substituted lead apatite, which they named LK-99.
  • Evidence of Superconductivity: The group reported that at 10% copper substitution, LK-99 exhibited the characteristics of a superconductor.
    • The material also maintained superconductivity in the presence of an external magnetic field, up to a certain critical threshold, a behavior consistent with known superconductors.
  • The Implications of LK-99: If the claims of LK-99 being a room-temperature superconductor are confirmed, it could usher in a new era for electrical conductivity and technology.
    • The widespread application of superconductors in everyday devices could lead to increased energy efficiency, reduced power losses, and the development of revolutionary technologies.

What are Superconductors?

  • About:
    • Superconductors are materials that exhibit zero electrical resistance when cooled to extremely low temperatures. This property allows them to conduct electricity with no loss of energy.
      • Example: Lanthanum-Barium-Copper Oxide, Yttrium-Barium-Copper Oxide, Niobium-Tin etc.
  • Discovery:
    • In 1911 Kamerlingh Onnes discovered that the electrical resistance of mercury completely disappeared at temperatures a few degrees above absolute zero.
  • Applications of Superconductors:
    • Energy Transmission: Superconducting cables can transmit electricity without losses, making them ideal for long-distance power transmission.
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Superconducting magnets are used in MRI machines to create strong and stable magnetic fields, enabling detailed medical imaging.
    • Particle Accelerators: Superconducting magnets are crucial components in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), allowing particles to reach high velocities.
    • Electric Motors and Generators: Superconducting materials can enhance the efficiency and power density of electric motors and generators.
    • Maglev Trains: Superconducting magnets enable magnetic levitation (maglev) trains to float above tracks, reducing friction and enabling high-speed travel.
    • Quantum Computing: Some superconducting materials are being explored for their potential in quantum computing due to their ability to exhibit quantum states.