A long-term technological holy grail is room-temperature superconductivity. Normal electrical conductors have resistance, and convert part of the electrical energy that flows through them to heat, which is lost. Superconductivity, a consequence of quantum mechanics, allows an electrical current to flow without any resistance at all, and would allow efficient transmission of electricity over long distances, more efficient motors, and magnetic levitation for devices such as high speed vehicles.
Superconductivity was discovered experimentally in 1911, but was not explained theoretically until 1957 by Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer, who shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in physics for their theory. The early superconductors required very low temperatures to operate: on the order of the temperature of liquid helium (around 4° K). It is very expensive to produce liquid helium and keep it liquid: while liquid nitrogen costs about as much as milk; liquid helium costs as much as Scotch whisky.
In 1986 two researchers at IBM Zürich, Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller, discovered that some ceramic materials became superconductive at around the temperature of liquid nitrogen (77° K). They immediately won the Nobel prize for this discovery the next year, but to this day there is no satisfactory theory for how this high-temperature superconductivity works—it is a major unsolved problem in theoretical physics. Milk is a lot cheaper than Scotch (you can buy as much liquid nitrogen as you wish at your local welding supply shop—just bring a thermos), and there are substantial technological applications of this phenomenon even though we haven’t a clue how or why it works.
But still, liquid nitrogen is messy to deal with. The ideal would be a superconductor that worked at room temperature without the need for refrigeration. That’s something you could potentially use to replace copper and aluminium wire in power lines and all kinds of electrical equipment, permitting transmission of power without loss and waste heat. So far, this has eluded everybody who has attempted to discover it.
On 2019-02-21 a U.S Patent Application, US 2019/0058105 A1 “Piezoelectricity-Induced Room Temperature Superconductor” [PDF], was filed on behalf of the U.S. Navy which claims that by abruptly vibrating a conductor by means of pulsed power it is possible to achieve room-temperature superconductivity. The patent application modestly notes,
The achievement of room temperature superconductivity (RTSC) represents a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology, rather than just a paradigm shift. Hence, its military and commercial value is considerable.
There is a great deal of speculation in the patent application as to the mechanism which might cause the electron pairing that produces the superconductivity, but there is no specific claim of a mechanism. No experimental data are presented to substantiate the claim of superconductivity.
Ratburger member and physicist Jack Sarfatti’s quick take, in an E-mail to his list of correspondents, is:
This seems consistent with my Frohlich pump proposal.“An electromagnetic coil is circumferentially positioned around the coating such that when the coil is activated with a pulsed current, a non-linear vibration is induced, enabling room temperature superconductivity.”The pulsed current coil is the resonant Frohlich pump.The effective non-equilibrium temperature of the pulsed device isT’ = T/(1 + k(pulsed current power)]T is the ambient thermodynamic equilibrium temperature when the pulse is switched off.Applying the pulse lowers the effective temperature to the critical temperature Tc for the onset of superconductivity (macro-quantum coherence).