One-way superconductivity without using magnetic fields has been discovered by researchers, smashing a strong barrier that held superconductivity from revolutionizing the electronics industry. While this feat was previously thought impossible, the researchers used 2D quantum materials to allow electricity to flow only one way through a superconducting material without any energy loss, enabling electronics to become magnitudes faster than what is currently possible with semi-conductors.
Their research was published in the journal Nature.
“If the 20th century was the century of semi-conductors, the 21st can become the century of the superconductor,” said professor Mazhar Ali, first author of the paper, in a statement.
Superconductivity is a goal like no other in electronics. When a material goes below a “critical” temperature (around -269°C), they become superconductors, in which electricity can pass through them with no resistance. This allows for blazing-fast data transfer, energy efficiency that is impossible in other technologies, and countless more applications.
Discovered in 1911, superconductivity research has been relatively hindered by two main issues: because there is no resistance in the material, making an electric current flow through in only one direction was thought impossible without magnetic fields; and superconductors must be cooled to almost absolute zero to function, requiring vast amounts of energy.
The first issue is a particular sticking point for superconductivity in electronics. Modern computers rely on electric currents passing into transistors to turn them "on" or "off", which is then converted into "machine code", otherwise known as binary. If these currents are allowed to run wild in any direction they please, it would not make for a particularly functional computer.
Despite huge efforts by computing company IBM, in 1970 the company declared superconducting computers impossible if this issue was not solved.
Now, using no magnetic fields, the team of researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, and China, has demonstrated that electricity can pass through superconductors in one direction under the right conditions, in what could be a landmark moment for the development of superconducting computers.
Even better, the work was conducted with “high-temperature superconductors”, which can use liquid nitrogen to be cooled.
“Many technologies are based on old versions of JJ superconductors, for example MRI technology. Also, quantum computing today is based on Josephson Junctions,” said Ali.
“Technology which was previously only possible using semi-conductors can now potentially be made with superconductors using this building block. This includes faster computers, as in computers with up to terahertz speed, which is 300 to 400 times faster than the computers we are now using. This will influence all sorts of societal and technological applications. If the 20th century was the century of semi-conductors, the 21st can become the century of the superconductor.”