‘Room-Temperature Superconductor Claim Triggers Investigation

A breakthrough claim by a group of South Korean researchers of a potential room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor has gained global attention.

On 22 July researchers from the Seoul-based Quantum Energy Research Centre, including Lee Suk-bae, Kim Hyun-tak and Kwon Young-wan, posted two papers on the online preprint repository, arXiv, claiming they had developed a room-temperature superconductor material.

However scientific papers self-archived on arXiv are not peer-reviewed or academically verified, so question marks surround the breakthrough claim.

Room temp superconductor

So what exactly is a superconductor, and why is the claim by Quantum Energy Research Centre, of a room-temperature version so important?

Well superconductors are highly sought-after materials, as electricity can move through it without encountering any resistance.

Unlike an ordinary metallic conductor, whose resistance decreases gradually as its temperature is lowered, even down to near absolute zero, a superconductor has a characteristic critical temperature below which the resistance drops abruptly to zero.

An electric current through a loop of superconducting wire can persist indefinitely with no power source.

However its use is highly restricted as superconductivity can typically only be achieved at very cold temperatures or high pressures.

Scientists are trying to develop superconductors that work at higher temperatures and lower pressures.

Therefore the claim of the creation of a room-temperature superconductor would significantly reduce the energy costs of everyday electronics, including MRI machines, maglev trains etc.

In the two papers, the Korean researchers claimed they have created a material, dubbed LK-99, which functions as a superconductor at ambient pressure and temperatures below 127 Celsius.

However the researchers that made the claim did not help themselves when they did not respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

But it triggered a global frenzy, that was further stoked after a Chinese university allegedly published a video replicating the experiment.

Verification process

Now Reuters has reported South Korean experts are saying on Thursday they would set up a committee to verify claims that a room temperature superconductor.

The Korean Society of Superconductivity and Cryogenics said in a statement on Thursday that it had asked Quantum Energy Research Centre to submit samples in order to verify its researchers’ findings of a room-temperature superconductor material.

“There has been a lot of controversy over the authenticity of the reported results at home and abroad, and other claims are being added without being peer-reviewed,” the group was quoted as saying.

“Based on data from the two archived papers and the video made public, the materials … cannot be called room temperature superconductors at this point,” it added.

The group said organisations such as Seoul National University, Sungkyunkwan University, and Pohang University of Science and Technology would verify the findings if any sample is provided by Quantum Energy Research Centre, while member organisations are carrying out their own verification research.

For now, the world will wait for the claims to either be verified or dismissed.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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