A tiny step forward toward achieving room-temperature superconductivity

Room temperature superconductivity creeping toward possibility.

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In a new study, scientists are observing a phenomenon that, to the best of their knowledge, has never been seen before. Through their research, they have taken a step forward towards the possibility of achieving room-temperature superconductivity.

The study by the team of Penn State physicists and materials scientists involved layering a two-dimensional material called molybdenum sulfide with another material called molybdenum carbide. Molybdenum carbide is a known superconductor — electrons can flow through the material without any resistance. Even the best of metals lose energy through heat. This loss makes long-distance transmission of electricity more costly.

When layering metastable phases of molybdenum carbide with molybdenum sulfide, superconductivity occurs at 6 Kelvin, a 50% increase.

However, this is not surprising. Other materials are shown to be superconductive at temperatures as high as 150 Kelvin. Yet, it is an unexpected phenomenon that portends a new method to increase superconductivity at higher temperatures in other superconducting materials.

Scientists further used modeling techniques to determine how ow the effect occurred.

Susan Sinnott, professor of materials science and engineering and head of the department, said, “Calculations using quantum mechanics as implemented within density functional theory assisted in the interpretation of experimental measurements to determine the structure of the buried molybdenum carbide/molybdenum sulfide interfaces. This work is a nice example of how materials synthesis, characterization, and modeling can come together to advance the discovery of new material systems with unique properties.”

Mauricio Terrones, corresponding author on a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published this week said, “It’s a fundamental discovery, but not one anyone believed would work. We are observing a phenomenon that, to the best of our knowledge, has never been observed before.”

Scientists are now continuing their experiments with superconductive materials to someday find materials combinations that can carry energy through the grid with zero resistance.

In addition to Terrones and Sinnott, authors on the PNAS paper, titled “Superconductivity enhancement in phase-engineered molybdenum carbide/sulfide vertical heterostructures,” are doctoral students or graduated doctorate recipients Fu Zhang, Yanfu Lu, Lavish Pabbi, Anna Binion, Tomotaroh Granzier-Nakajima, Tiany Zhang and Zhong Lin; and postdoctoral scholars Kazunori Fujisawa And Yu Lei, Professor Eric Hudson and former Research Assistant Professor Laura Elias, all of Penn State, and Wenkai Zhang and Luis Balcas of Florida State.