Room temperature superconductors would change almost every industry and they are the literal holy grail of materials.


Love the Exponential Future? Join our XPotential Community, future proof yourself with courses from XPotential University, read about exponential tech and trendsconnect, watch a keynote, or browse my blog.

Last week, a group of South Korean physicists made a startling claim. In two papers uploaded to the arXiv preprint server, they say they have created a material that “opens a new era for humankind.”


NASA designs shape shifting robots to explore other planets


LK-99, a lead-based compound, is purportedly a room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor. Such a material, which conducts electricity without any resistance under normal conditions, could have truly huge implications for energy generation and transmission, transport, computing, and other areas of technology.

The papers have sparked wild enthusiasm online, and several efforts to replicate the work. At the same time, there are reports of disputes among the Korean researchers over whether the research should have been released at all.

So what’s the fuss? When an electric current flows through an ordinary conductor like a copper wire, the electrons bump into atoms as they jostle along. As a result, the electrons lose some energy and the wire heats up.

In a superconductor, electrons move without any resistance. Superconducting wires can transmit electricity without losing energy, and superconducting magnets are powerful enough to levitate trains and contain the fierce plasmas in fusion reactors.


New Chinese camera can see round corners


However, all known superconductors require very low temperatures (typically lower than –100 ℃) or extremely high pressures (more than 100,000 times ordinary atmospheric pressure). These restrictions make superconductors expensive and impractical for many applications.

Several teams of researchers have claimed to have detected room-temperature or near room temperature superconductivity in various substances in the past, but none of the room temperature ones have ever stood up to scrutiny. As recently as last week, a superconductivity paper by American physicist Ranga Dias was retracted amid suspicions of data fabrication.

So while a room-temperature superconductor would be an amazing discovery, we should meet the new claims with some skepticism.

The South Korean researchers say LK-99 can be made in a baking process that combines the minerals lanarkite (Pb₂SO₅) and copper phosphide (Cu₃P). They say the resulting material shows two key signs of superconductivity at normal air pressure and at temperatures up to 127 ℃: zero resistance and magnetic levitation.


Common element combinations could replace rare Earth metals in electronics


They propose a plausible theory of how LK-99 might display room-temperature superconductivity, but have not provided definite experimental evidence. The data presented in the papers appear inconclusive.

One of the signatures of a superconductor is the Meissner effect, which causes it to levitate when placed above a magnet. In a video demonstration, the researchers position a piece of LK-99 over a magnet. One edge of the flat disk of LK-99 rises, but the other edge appears to maintain contact with the magnet.

We would expect a superconductor to display full levitation and also “quantum locking” which keeps it in a fixed position relative to the magnet. In a charitable interpretation, the behavior we see in the video may be due to imperfections in the sample, meaning only part of the sample becomes superconductive.

So it is too early to say we have been presented with compelling evidence for room-temperature superconductivity.


Infographic: 3D Printing in schools, and preparing children for the future


At present, all we know about LK-99 comes from the two arXiv papers, which have not been peer-reviewed. Both papers present similar measurements, though the presentation is unconventional. However, there are some differences in the content, and also in authorship, which does not inspire confidence.

So what happens now? The processes of science swing into action.

Experts will closely review the papers. Researchers at other laboratories will attempt to reproduce the experiments described in the papers and see whether they end up with a room-temperature superconductor.


ChatGPT listed as an author on research papers and scientists disapprove


These crucial steps are necessary to establish the validity and reliability of the LK-99 claims. If the claims are validated and confirmed, it could mark one of the most groundbreaking advancements in physics and materials engineering in the past few decades.

However, until the research undergoes rigorous review and testing, we should approach the claims with caution. We will all be awaiting the outcome of the verification process with great interest.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *