Article Highlight | 7-Feb-2024

Media Tip: Scientists reveal superconductor with on-off switches

DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

As industrial computing needs grow, the size and energy consumption of the hardware needed to keep up with those needs grows as well. A possible solution to this dilemma could be found in superconducting materials, which can reduce that energy consumption exponentially. Physicists at the University of Washington and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have found a superconducting material that is uniquely sensitive to outside stimuli, enabling the superconducting properties to be enhanced or suppressed at will. This enables new opportunities for energy-efficient switchable superconducting circuits. 

Today’s electronics use semiconducting transistors to quickly switch electric currents on and off, creating the binary ones and zeroes used in information processing. As these currents must flow through materials with finite electrical resistance, some of the energy is wasted as heat. This is why your computer heats up over time. The low temperatures needed for superconductivity, usually more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing, makes those materials impractical for hand-held devices. However, they could conceivably be useful on an industrial scale. Imagine cooling a giant data center full of constantly running servers down to nearly absolute zero, enabling large-scale computation with incredible energy efficiency.

To understand the interaction of these phases, lead investigator Shua Sanchez, then of the University of Washington, spent a year as a resident at one of the nation’s leading X-ray light sources, the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science user facility at Argonne. Working with physicists at the APS, Sanchez developed a comprehensive characterization platform capable of probing microscopic details of complex materials. Using electrical measurements and X-ray scattering techniques, Sanchez and his colleagues were able to confirm that they could control the behavior of this material.

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