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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 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.

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