This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

February 11, 2004

Breakthrough May Shed Light on High-Temperature Superconductivity

Scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce—announced in late January they had created a new form of matter, which may yield clues to the processes at work in high-temperature superconductor (HTS) materials. By cooling a gas of potassium atoms to near absolute zero and then applying a magnetic field, the researchers were able to make the atoms pair up together, creating a form of matter called a "fermionic condensate." Fermions are the particles that make up our day-to-day world: protons, neutrons, and electrons. A fermionic condensate involves pairs of fermions—in this case, the potassium atoms—not actually bonding together as molecules, but still moving together as pairs.

A similar process takes place in HTS materials, in which the forming of pairs of electrons (called "Cooper pairs") appear to be crucial to superconductivity—the ability of the material to carry current with no resistance. The researchers hope that their studies of fermionic condensates will yield new understanding to how Cooper pairs form in HTS materials, which may eventually help scientists create new and better HTS materials. High-temperature superconductivity can help improve the energy efficiency of wiring and electrical equipment, since it allows current to flow through materials with very low energy loss without requiring cryogenic cooling systems. See the NIST press release.