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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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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.)

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