Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hype. Again.

Remember this post, where I reported on interesting Shubnikov-deHaas oscillations in very pure high-Tc material? Well, that paper has now come out in Nature. Unsurprisingly, there has been an associated flurry of press, including this article. In case that link doesn't work, I'll spoil the punchline for you:
Canadian physicists have cracked a decades-old mystery surrounding metals that carry electricity without resistance, opening the door for everyday trains that levitate on magnetic fields, ultrapowerful quantum computers and big savings for utilities.
...
Taillefer predicted the discovery would lead to room-temperature superconductors within 10 years, triggering a technological revolution similar to the invention of the transistor.

One of the most promising applications for such superconducting metals is in magnetic levitation trains, which can theoretically run at speeds of up to 500 km/h.
...
Other possible superconducting applications include shrinking MRI machines to the size of laptops, eliminating the 10 to 20 per cent electricity lost from resistance inside power stations and building quantum computers, machines so powerful they would make today's supercomputers resemble mere pocket calculators.

Wow. They get from Shubnikov-deHaas oscillations to room temperature superconductors to maglev trains and quantum computers.
I had no idea that getting clean samples could do so much. I'm presuming that most of the fault for this lies in the journalism rather than the scientists, but let this be a cautionary tale.

6 comments:

Dave Bacon said...

Okay, so ignoring the hype, do you think that the discovery of a room-temperature suprconductor would trigger a revolution similar to the invention of the transistor?

I once heard on the Paul Harvey radio show that a team had announced that room temperature superconductors had been demonstrated. I almost started crying I was so excited. And boy was I pissed when I learned out the report was false :(

Incoherent Ponderer said...

Louis Taillefer has two papers this week - one in Science and one in Nature - not bad, huh?

Room-T superconductivity will be huge, but at this point I will settle for understanding of fundamental principles of non-conventional (high-Tc) superconductivity.

Doug Natelson said...

IP - I was going to point out the same thing. That's a good week!

Dave - Discovery of a room temperature superconductor would be a huge deal scientifically. For it to have the kind of technological impact needed to be compared fairly to the transistor, it would have to have several other properties: (1) high critical currents; (2) high critical fields; (3) sufficient ductility to be made into nice wires, cables, or ribbons; (4) reasonable chemical, pressure, and thermal stability; (5) "good" interfaces such that one can make nice tunnel junctions. I through that one in there for you, so we can do room temperature rapid single-flux quantum logic and quantum computation.

Given all of those nice properties, "transformative" (to use the NSF buzzword du jour) technological impact would not be unreasonable.

Still, getting Tc > 300 K will probably entail a whole new family of superconducting compounds. Once one is found, everyone's hopes will get raised.

Kun Gao said...

orz...it's maybe the habits of some pressmen to exaggerate the facts of scientific results in order to attract more attention on their reports.

Mychael Margott said...

I was going to point out the same thing. That's a good week!

Alfonso Fanjul said...

I almost started crying I was so excited. And boy was I pissed when I learned out the report was false.