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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 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.


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