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Many people with a laptop can tell you that electronics heat up a lot. That’s because microchips tend to lose a lot of energy as they are used. Superconductors are a way around this, but currently, they can only operate in really cold temperatures.

However, a new study may bring us another step closer to room temperate superconductors. Researchers from Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley, and Germany have found a material that has unique properties which, if replicated in the proper materials, could provide lossless electrical conductivity.

The team has been studying cadmium arsenide, and found that when electric current is run through small slices of it, electrons rotate around one surface, then through the bulk of the material to its opposite surface and back.

This behavior stems from the material’s chirality, a quantum property that couples an electron’s spin to its momentum.

When they ran the current through the 150 nm thick slices, an external magnetic field would make electrons race across the surface.

Credit: Nature, 10.1038/nature18276

The electrons eventually match the energy and momentum of the electrons in the center or bulk of the slices, and the chirality of bulk electrons pull them to the center and push them to the opposite surface.

Applications

As it stands now, the research has no direct benefits, since cadmium arsenide can’t be used for electronics purposes. Even so, if these results can be replicated in similar materials, the possibilities are quite exciting. They could be used in creating computers that rely on electron spin to process data, or thermoelectric devices that convert waste heat to electric current.

But the holy grail is still higher temperature superconductors. Lossless conduction at regular temperatures is what this research displayed, and this is the principle behind superconductors.

If successfully produced, these superconductors could provide applications in energy grids, levitating transport, computing technology, memory storage, and many others.


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