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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: Vacuum?
By pnyffeler on 4/10/2008 12:21:11 PM , Rating: 6
In the original experiments where they discovered superconductivity, the experiments were conducted in a vacuum because at such a low temperature, any gas present would have transferred heat to the material, making their cooling impossible. Once the critical temperature of superconductors reaches temps not so close to absolute zero, the presence of gases will become irrelevant.

When you're dealing with such low temperatures, you have to understand what temperature actually is. Imagine a pool table where all the balls are bouncing around the table, crashing into each other over and over again. When you measure temperature, you are actually measuring the average energy of motion (called kinetic energy) within the atoms as they bounce around. At absolute zero, all motion of atoms stops. So, when you get close to absolute zero, what you really want is to lower the average motion of the atoms in the material you are cooling. Gases, which is comprised of atoms bouncing around with lots of space between them, would collide with the atoms of the substrate. Thus, you have to stop all collisions in order to get the stuff cool enough to see the weird state of matter that is superconductivity.

RE: Vacuum?
By Mitch101 on 4/10/2008 2:47:51 PM , Rating: 2
Awesome explanations and by your information on early tests using a vacuum makes me think that I am not completely hopeless at science.

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

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