An international group of researchers has announced the finding of a new state of matter in a material that seems to be an insulator, superconductor, metal and magnet all rolled into one, saying that it could lead to the improvement of more operative high-temperature superconductors. So, why is this so exciting? Well, if these characteristics are confirmed, this new state of matter will let researchers to better understand why some things have the potential to reach superconductivity at a relativity high critical temperature (Tc) - "high" as in −135 °C as contrasting to −243.2 °C. Since superconductivity permits a material to conduct electricity without resistance, which obviously means no heat, sound, or any other kind of energy release, attaining this would definitely revolutionize how we use and generate energy, but it’s only possible if we can achieve it at so-called high temperatures. As Michael Byrne describes at Motherboard, when we start to talk about states of matter, it’s not just only solids, liquids, gases, and perhaps plasmas that we have to think about. We also have to study the more incomprehensible states that don’t take place in nature, but are rather produced in the lab, for example Bose–Einstein condensate, degenerate matter, supersolids and superfluids, and quark-gluon plasma.
|Image: High temperature superconductor levitating above a ring magnet. Credit: Julian Litzel/Wikimedia|
By adding rubidium into carbon-60 molecules - generally known as 'buckyballs' - a group of scientists led by chemist Kosmas Prassides from Tokohu University in Japan was able to alter the distance between them, which formed a new crystalline structure. When put through a series of tests, this structure showed a mixture of insulating, superconducting, metallic, and magnetic phases, containing a brand new one, which the scientists have named 'Jahn-Teller metals'. Termed after the Jahn-Teller effect, which is used in chemistry to describe how at low pressures, the geometric prearrangement of molecules and ions in an electronic state can become partial, this new state of matter lets researchers to alter an insulator - which can’t conduct electricity - into a conductor by only applying pressure.
There’s a lot of lab-work to be done before this finding will actually mean anything for applied energy production in the real world, but that’s science for you. And it’s got people thrilled already, as chemist Elisabeth Nicol from the University of Guelph told Hamish Johnston at PhysicsWorld: "Understanding the mechanisms at play and how they can be manipulated to change the Tc surely will inspire the development of new [superconducting] materials".