Breakthrough in superconducting material could revolutionise data centres
Wed 20 Dec 2023
Researchers from the University of Washington and the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a superconducting material that could be a game-changer for industrial-scale computing and data centres.
The findings, published in Science Advances, reveal a material that can switch its superconducting properties on and off, a breakthrough in energy-efficient computing.
Superconductivity, where electrical current flows through a material with zero resistance, leads to perfect electronic transport efficiency. While commonly used in technologies like MRI machines, particle accelerators, and quantum computing, superconductors have been impractical for smaller devices due to the extreme cooling required.
Shua Sanchez, the lead researcher at the University of Washington (now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), said: “This material is exciting because you have a close competition between multiple phases, and by applying a small stress or magnetic field, you can boost one phase over the other to turn the superconductivity on and off. The vast majority of superconductors aren’t nearly as easily switchable.”
The unique material consists of ferromagnetic europium atoms sandwiched between superconducting layers of iron, cobalt, and arsenic atoms. This combination is rare, as ferromagnetism usually overpowers superconductivity.
“It is actually a very uncomfortable situation for the superconducting layers, as they are pierced by the magnetic fields from the surrounding europium atoms. This weakens the superconductivity and results in a finite electrical resistance,” said Sanchez.
The research team showed that applying a magnetic field reorients the europium magnetic field lines, removing their antagonistic effects and restoring zero resistance. Additional stresses applied to the crystal demonstrated the material’s sensitivity to magnetism could be controlled, enhancing or suppressing superconductivity.
Philip Ryan, a co-author from Argonne National Laboratory, said: “The nature of independent parameters controlling superconductivity is quite fascinating … This potential posits several fascinating ideas including the ability to regulate field sensitivity for quantum devices.”
The superconducting material discovery opens up new possibilities for energy-efficient, large-scale computing, potentially revolutionising the way industrial data centres and quantum devices are designed and operated.