Alcohol, according to one famous Springfield resident, is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. This is a saying that obviously resounded with one inebriated Japanese scientist who has found that booze may in fact hold the key to solving a long standing problem of how to achieve superconductivity at high temperatures.
Yoshihiko Takano a physicist at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, has, according to the New Scientist, discovered that alcoholic drinks can transform supposedly ordinary materials into ones that can conduct electricity with zero resistance.
This discovery offers of fascinating applications including making power lines from superconducting cables so that they lose just a tiny fraction any of the electrical energy, saving money and cutting carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention offering a novel way to use up all the left-over Lambrini from the Techeye staff Christmas party.
Superconductors are also used to repel magnetic fields, meaning that they can levitate containing materials with the merest hint of magnetism, including high speed trains.
The problem so far has been that, while superconducting materials have been used for some time now, it is only possible to use them at very low temperatures.
Originally, when superconductors were discovered in 1911 by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, it was only possible electricity to flow with no resistance when in temperatures as close to absolute zero as possible, around -269 celsius or 4.2 kelvins in liquid helium.
Although superconductors have now been made which are able to function while at ‘high temperatures’ of 135 kelvins this is still well below room temperature, the holy grail for applicable superconductivity.
One of the main problems has been that while the original metallic superconductors are well understood by scientists, the higher temperature ceramic conductors which contain layers of oxygen and copper atoms are not as well comprehended.
Since the discovery of a completely new type of superconductor in 2008 made of iron, arsenic, oxygen and lanthanum, possibilities have been opened up for higher temperature superconductivity. However there has been little succes in actually implementing it.
Now though Takano believes he may have a way to allow the new superconducting material to function at room temperature. After one of his students accidentally came across a method of substituting some of the ingredients in the compound Takano unexpectedly stumbled across the solution, though remained perplexed as to how it actually worked.
Takano began to realise that only the samples soaked in water turned into superconductors. “We found that the coexistence of water and oxygen is important,” says Takano.
Following a rather large piss up in honour of the discovery Takano decided to take things a step further and nick some of the booze to use in his experiment.
“I thought of it because I like alcohol very much,” Takano said.
After emptying the party of any wine, beer, whisky, sake and Japanes liquor shochu Takano soaked the samples in the various liquids for 24 hours before testing for superconductivity.
Surprisingly he found that the drinks all showed large increases in conductivity, with red wine the over all winner.