Recently, social media has been aflutter over a claim for a new superconductor that works not only well above room temperatures but also at ambient pressure. If true, the discovery would be one of the biggest ever in condensed matter physics. It could usher in all sorts of technological marvels, such as levitating vehicles and perfectly efficient electrical grids. However, the two related papers, posted to the arXiv preprint server by Sukbae Lee and Ji-Hoon Kim of South Korea’s Quantum Energy Research Centre and colleagues on 22 July, are short on detail and have left many physicists skeptical. The researchers did not respond to Science’s request for comment.
“They come off as real amateurs,” says Michael Norman, a theorist at Argonne National Laboratory. “They don’t know much about superconductivity and how they’ve presented some of the data is fishy.” On the other hand, he says, researchers at Argonne and elsewhere are already trying to replicate the experiment. “People here are taking it seriously and trying to grow this stuff.” Nadya Mason, a condensed matter physicist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign says, “I appreciate that the authors took appropriate data and were clear about their fabrication techniques.” Still, she cautions, “The data seems a bit sloppy.”
A superconductor is a material that can convey an electrical current without any resistance at all. If you’ve ever had an MRI, you’ve lain inside a big electromagnet made of superconducting wire. The resistance-less flow enables it to make a very strong magnetic field without heating up or consuming enormous energy. Superconductors have myriad other uses, from making frequency filters for radio communications to accelerating particles in atom smashers.