This mosaic represents the distribution of superconductivity around holes (white) in a thin sheet of superconducting film. Green indicates strong superconductivity. Further away from the holes, the superconductivity decreases (yellow, red and finally black, where the material is densely populated with vortices that interfere with superconductivity.

Vortex pinning could lead to superconducting breakthroughs

February 13, 2013 by Louise Lerner

A team of researchers from Russia, Spain, Belgium, the U.K. and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory announced findings last week that may represent a breakthrough in applications of superconductivity.

The team discovered a way to efficiently stabilize tiny magnetic vortices that interfere with superconductivity—a problem that has plagued scientists trying to engineer real-world applications for decades. The discovery could remove one of the most significant roadblocks to advances in superconductor technology.

Superconductors are extremely useful materials, given that modern society involves moving a lot of electricity around. Each time we do it, whether it be along the cord from the outlet to your lamp or in the millions of miles of power lines strung across the country, we lose a little bit of electricity. That effect is due to resistance in the wires we currently use to transport electricity. Even a pretty good conductor, like copper wire, loses some electricity due to resistance.

But in an ideal superconductor, no electricity is ever lost. If you set up a loop of perfect superconducting wire and added some current, it would circle that loop forever. Superconductors are the secret behind MRI machines, Maglev trains and improved cell phone reception.

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