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Able to stop stray electrons in a single bound, superinsulating materials could yield a huge benefit for the electronics industry.

Most people are now familiar with the term “superconductor” -- a material which possesses practically no resistance to electricity, theoretically able to sustain a closed system indefinitely without external power. Unfortunately, there are presently no known superconductors that work at room temperature, most only at a few degrees above absolute zero.

Superinsulators are not something one often reads about. There were no known such materials, in fact, until researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory produced one. A superinsulator, just as it sounds, works in exactly the opposite manner as a superconductor – very minimal to no current will pass through it.

The researchers found that a certain material, a thin film of titanium nitride, experienced a resistance increase of 100,000 percent as its temperature or the external magnetic field dropped below a certain threshold. Led by Valerii Vinokur of Argonne and Russian scientist Tatyana Baturina, the group of scientists used a dilution refrigerator to cool the sheet to near absolute zero temperature to make their observations.

Interestingly, the gimmick to superinsulators is virtually the same as for superconductors, relying on electron pairing known as Cooper pairs. These stable electron pairs form long chains in superconductors, allowing the near infinitely free flow of current. Conversely, in superinsulators, the Cooper pairs instead of linking together remain completely independent, thus inhibiting the flow of current nearly infinitely.

The group found that the difference between superconducting and superinsulating materials in this case is dependent on the thickness of the film. Several materials aside from titanium nitride also act in this manner, though none at room temperature.

In the future, superconducting and superinsulating materials could be combined to create a perfect theoretical self-sustaining circuit, high current transmission lines with no leakage, or high performance batteries just to name a few. A viable material with acceptable production costs would likely harbinger a revolution in electrical devices of all kinds and industries.

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Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By eetnoyer on 4/10/2008 10:08:34 AM , Rating: 5
Unless I'm missing something, where's the "new" state of matter?

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By JasonMick on 4/10/2008 10:19:23 AM , Rating: 4
Correct, normal states of matter are gas, liquid, solid, and plasma.

Less frequents states include quark-gluon plasma; Rydberg matter; Bose-Einstein condensates and fermionic condensates; quantum spin Hall state; degenerate matter; strange matter; superfluids and supersolids; and possibly string-net liquids.

A better term for superconductors/superinsulators would be material class or material phenomena when refering to the phenomena, not the material itself.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By AlphaVirus on 4/10/08, Rating: 0
RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By eetnoyer on 4/10/2008 11:46:38 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, he did a very nice job of "cut and paste" from Wikipedia, or whatever reference the Wiki author copied from. I simply used the three classical states for succinctness. I am also aware of the other "states" that are listed, but saw no reason to ruin a good one-liner. As it stands, the article describes no new "state" of matter, merely a newly observed "property" of a particular compound in one of those states.

P.S. I have to argue against the classification of plasma as a separate state since it is defined as an ionized gas.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By neo64 on 4/10/2008 11:50:19 AM , Rating: 3
plasma arguably is the fourth state of matter, or so ive been taught back in elementary chemistry

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By das mod on 4/10/2008 12:06:23 PM , Rating: 2
don't forget "Dark Matter" (recently acknowledged)

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Etsp on 4/10/2008 12:30:48 PM , Rating: 2
Dark matter isn't a state of matter, it is something that has detectable mass that ISN'T matter. The term Dark Matter describes an object (or objects), it does not describe a state of an object.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By eetnoyer on 4/10/2008 1:05:06 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not saying that I'm right and others are wrong, or vice-versa. I'm just saying that as a chemist, I disagree with the classification of plasma as a "state" of matter. Some people argue that Pluto should be called a planet. In which case, there are literally dozens of other objects that should also be added to the list of planets.

As Venatici said below, there are arguments either way. My own opinion is that solids are classified by the property of maintaining their own shape and volume. Liquids are classified by the property of maintaining their own volume while adapting their shape to their container. Gases are classified by the property of adapting both their shape and volume to their container. Plasmas also fit that definition of a gas. Further, if we are to consider plasma as a separate state matter, we should also consider dissolved ions (e.g. NaCl) as a separate state.

While I don't consider myself well versed on all of the "special" states, I would imagine that there are two sides to most of those arguments as well.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By StormEffect on 4/10/2008 3:15:51 PM , Rating: 2
Pluto was classified recently as a dwarf planet, and as a result two other "dwarf planets" were added to the common sequence of planets, Ceres and Eris. Children in elementary school now learn about 12 solar bodies instead of just 9 (including the sun).

As for plasma, when you actually start learning more than basic chemistry, it is easy to dismiss plasma as a 'true' state of particles because behavioral and structural differences are not nearly as profound as solid-liquid-gas transitions. I am apt to agree with eetnoyer on the subject, though I don't really want to. :P

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Pudro on 4/11/2008 8:29:49 AM , Rating: 2
When you actually start learning more about the basics about plasma, it is easy to see how your chemistry approach is just avoiding the important ways in which plasma differs from the other forms. As is mentioned elsewhere, there are many different forms of matter, with many highly unique properties. The reason plasma gets mentioned as one of the four "basic" forms is because "basic" just means most plentiful - and of those four, plasma is by far the most plentiful of all. The only reason it is fourth in how much attention it gets is because it is the least plentiful of the four in our everyday lives.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Venatici on 4/10/2008 12:07:48 PM , Rating: 3
I disagree. Plasma should definitely be classified as as separate state. Your definition could also imply there is no liquid state of matter. i.e. liquid is defined as melted solid matter. Once a gas is ionized it is technically no longer a gas.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Chemical Chris on 4/10/2008 12:36:23 PM , Rating: 2
Plasma is not a state of matter, it is an ionized gas. We use it in the lab in ICP-(AES, MS, etc), or, inductively-coupled-plasma - (atomic emission spectrum, mass spec, etc), the plasma is ionized argon, with the flame temp from 6000-10000 degrees is not a state of matter tho.
The fourth 'common' one, other than solid, liquid, gas, is known as a superfluid, when the temperature and pressure reach a certain 'supercritical point', beyond which the compound forms a superfluid, with all kinds of cool properties. My 1st year chem prof does the majority of research on them, mainly using them as solvents to treat environmental contamination, drug delivery, among others (sometimes they work, sometimes they dont, but superfluid CO2 is really nifty, gotta say!)
Hope that clears some things up :)

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By werepossum on 4/10/2008 6:34:57 PM , Rating: 2
I'm certainly not a physicist, but I'd definitely say plasma is a state of matter. The differences between a plasma and the other three common states of matter are arguably more striking and significant than the differences between the three of them. Further, I believe the change in atomic structure and forces from gas to plasma is much more dramatic than the change in atomic structure and forces from liquid to gas.

I agree that superinsulators are not properly a new state of matter, but considering this was only used as an attention-grabbing headline - and the disagreement just on this board about what does constitute a proper state of matter - I think it's within reasonable bounds of pop science journalism. (Which is to say the headline grabbed my attention and the story did not confuse me by actually attempting to classify superinsulators as a new state of matter.)

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Shadowself on 4/10/2008 12:45:51 PM , Rating: 4
A plasma, properly defined, is indeed a fourth state of matter.

A plasma is not an ionized gas.

A plasma is a state of matter in which the nuclei (protons and neutrons) and electrons are completely decoupled.

Under this definition there are no atoms and thus there are not ions and thus there can be no gas.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By ImSpartacus on 4/10/2008 4:02:24 PM , Rating: 2
Good way of putting it. Solids have a rigid structure of electrons (with nucleus), liquids are less rigid, and gases are the least rigid. Plasmas do not have a set structure. The electrons are all over the place.

There you go. Those nerds at Wikipedia compile the states of matter well.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By daInvincibleGama on 4/10/2008 5:41:37 PM , Rating: 2
States of matter like solid, liquid and gas have nothing at all to do with electrons. Metals, most of which are classified as solids, actually have a loose electron structure (think electric current). Electron "structure" is mostly a periodic property (think periodic table of elements).

It is the structure caused by intermolecular forces between atoms/molecules that is tight in a solid and extremely loose in a gas. That said, you are right when you say that plasma is basically a gas with no electron structure. A plasma is just a gas with disconnected electrons (which is not a property states of matter are otherwise based upon). It's more like a gas with special properties caused by temperature.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By joegee on 4/10/2008 6:48:14 PM , Rating: 2
Well said. Chemistry and physics use the same word to mean different things.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By jtemplin on 4/11/2008 8:28:03 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't argue against plasma as a separate category. It is the most common state of matter in the universe.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By AlphaVirus on 4/22/2008 5:21:17 PM , Rating: 2
Geeze, come back weeks later to find a simple question asked was rated down. For what?

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Pottervilla on 4/10/2008 10:28:18 AM , Rating: 3
I believe that Levi picked that idea from the Argonne article

Superinsulation may sound like a marketing gimmick for a drafty attic or winter coat. But it is actually a newly discovered fundamental state of matter created by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in collaboration with several European institutions.

I'm not sure I agree, but who am I to argue with a national laboratory?

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By Samus on 4/10/2008 12:15:14 PM , Rating: 2
I work at Argonne as a network engineer in the APS building (advanced photon source, or synchrotron ring) and this research was discussed in a conference last fall. I believe the University of Chicago 'CARS' Department is responsible for the discovery while x-raying an energy storage device. However, I could be confused because UChicago managed the Argonne facilities, so a lot of the time they get credit for other peoples discoveries, when in fact they only have 3 sectors on the ring (out of 36 I believe, some of which are run by IBM, DOE, DOD, etc)

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By pnyffeler on 4/10/2008 12:13:18 PM , Rating: 5
I can't really comment on whether a superinsulator would really be a "new" state of matter, but a superconductor clearly was.

Matter is composed of atoms, which are positively charged nuclei about which negatively-charged electrons circle in something akin to orbits of a planet. Atoms are pushed apart from one another (i.e. won't invade each other's space) because of the negative-negative repulsion of the electrons.

The orbit analogy of electrons is a misnomer. In fact, due to the bizarre effects of quantum mechanics, the "orbits" are actually standing waves, much like that in a resonating guitar string, except they are spherical and never die out.

With superconducting materials, as you cool the atoms, they end up having so little energy that they stop repulsing each other and come close enough that each atom's electron "orbits" overlap. When this happens, instead of crashing into one another, the orbit waves combine and add to one another. In this state, it is no longer a solid, liquid, or gas, but something more dense than a solid with crazy properties.

It's the combination of the electron orbitals that make the materials superconducting. Because an electron within an orbital/wave is moving at (almost) the speed of light, it can travel almost instantly from one end of the material to the other with no resistance. In effect, the electrons no longer "belong" to one atom, but instead are everywhere at once along the superconducting material.

I've never read about the superinsulator stuff, but it would appear that the same phenomenon is happening, except the coalescing waves are arranged in such a way that the electrons can never travel through the whole material. In other words, it's probable that superconducting and superinsulating materials are technically the same state of matter, with the distance between atom nuclei being smaller than orbital electron repulsion should classically allow, except in one, the coalesced electron waves allow free travel throughout the medium, while the other completely inhibits it.

Hope that makes sense...

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By JoshuaBuss on 4/10/2008 1:51:25 PM , Rating: 2
my understanding of what's going on leads me to believe you've hit the nail on the head. good post.

RE: Solid, Liquid, Gas....
By pnyffeler on 4/10/2008 3:48:54 PM , Rating: 2
I knew this Ph.D. would come in handy one day... :-)

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