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High-temp superconductivity turns 25

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In 1986, two IBM scientists---J. Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Muller---discovered superconductivity in an oxide material at -397 deg F. That temperature was 50 percent higher than the previous mark.

High-temperature superconductivity is turning 25 years old.

In 1986, two IBM scientists---J. Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Muller---discovered superconductivity in an oxide material at -397 deg F. That temperature was 50 percent higher than the previous mark. Superconductivity was discovered in 1911 by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, a Dutch physicist. Onnes discovered that superconductivity occurs when metals like tin and lead are cooled to absolute zero (-459.67 deg F).

Just a year after that discovery, Bednorz and Muller were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Indeed, the high-temp superconductivity discovery had applications in measurement technology, electrotechnology and microelectronics.

Bednorz and Muller published "Possible High Tc Superconductivity in the Ba - La - Cu - O System"(2) was received by the peer-reviewed journal Zeitschrift fur Physik B on April 17, 1986.

Applications today include:

  • Magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scanners.
  • American Superconductor is using high-temp superconductor wire for energy efficient cables (right). These lines are being used in the Tres Amigas Project, which connects three power grids to create a renewable energy market.
  • Magnetic Levitating Trains, which are being tested in Asia. These trains use magnets to levitate above the steel rails.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure