Potentially groundbreaking research published on ArXiv has left many researchers doubtful. If true, it could usher in a whole new generation of technologies and would be one of the most astonishing discoveries in superconductor physics.
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The skepticism centers around a bold claim in two related papers published on the preprint server. The researchers claim to have discovered a way to build a superconductor that operates at room temperature and above, and at ambient pressure.
What is a Superconductor?
Superconductors can transfer electricity with zero resistance, potentially at room temperature conditions. Most conventional superconductors work at low temperatures and are used in MRIs, radio communications, and particle accelerators.
Superconducting materials allow electrons to pass through them due to the formation of overlapping, loosely bound electron pairs that are difficult to deflect. The vibrations in these materials are extremely low, which does not impede the passage of electrons, and therefore allows for efficient electrical conductivity.
Many elemental metals and their alloys can be used to make superconductors, including mercury, lead, tin, and niobium, at low temperatures. Current understanding of high-temperature superconductors is limited, but it is thought that they rely on different mechanisms for electron bonding than low-temperature superconductors.
What are the Research Claims?
The research findings, which other researchers are currently trying to replicate, involve doping a material made of lead, oxygen, and phosphorous with copper. The South Korean group of scientists behind the two papers claim that this creates a material that can superconduct at ambient pressure and at temperatures up to 400K.
Data presented in the papers showed the material has zero resistance and that it can exert a magnetic field, which is a key superconductivity indicator. Essentially, the material can be prepared, baked, and will conduct electricity on the lab bench. If true, it would be the ultimate superconductor.
What are the Key Issues?
Michael Noman of Argonne National Laboratory has said that there are several issues with the research, which are good cause for skepticism.
One of the main reasons for doubting the veracity of the research findings is that lead apatite, the starting material, is a nonconducting mineral rather than a metal. Furthermore, the material’s electrical properties should not be significantly altered by copper doping as copper and lead atoms have similar electronic structures.
Another key issue is that the heavy nature of lead atoms suppresses vibrations, making electron pairing difficult.
Other researchers have also expressed concerns with experimental errors and imperfections in samples as well as data errors. The research’s theoretical model has also been called into question.
How Have the Authors Explained the Superconducting Behavior?
Whilst there is no solid explanation for the superconducting behavior, the authors have provided some possible insights into the underlying physics.
The behavior is potentially due to long lead atom chains becoming slightly distorted by copper doping to create 1D channels where superconductivity can occur. Scientists are divided on whether this is possible, however.
Norman has noted that superconductivity in 1D systems is rare. Furthermore, increased distortion in the 1D channels should further suppress the material’s superconducting characteristics.
Nadya Mason of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is not so sure. She points out that Lee and Kim, the authors of the two papers, have suggested that this behavior could be similar to other high-temperature superconductors, where similar charge patterns have been observed.
Can the Research be Confirmed?
Norman has said that replicating and confirming the research results should be fairly easy as lead apatite is a common material that can be easily prepared. Copper doping is also a well-understood method.
The papers make a bold, controversial claim which could be the most significant breakthrough in superconductor physics in decades. Whilst social media has been abuzz in recent days, scientists are calling for more caution. The findings could be nothing less than the holy grail in superconductor development.
If true, the research would upend scientists' current understanding of room-temperature superconductivity. However, it will be easy to confirm if this small-batch, rapid, multistep solid-state synthesis approach works and whether physicists are on the verge of a potentially huge step in superconductor physics.
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References and Further Reading
Lee, S et al. (2023) Superconductor Pb10−xCux(PO4)6O showing levitation at room temperature and atmospheric pressure and mechanism arXiv [online] Available at:
Lee, S et al. (2023) The First Room-Temperature Ambient-Pressure Superconductor ArXiv [online] Available at:
Cho, A (2023) A spectacular superconductor claim is making news. Here’s why experts are doubtful [online] science.org. Available at: