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LK-99 fails to defy gravity's grasp

By Adrian Tomaszewski Sept. 28, 2023 The Meissner effect is, as one physicist puts it, a “glitch” in reality. It describes the ability of electric fields to be repelled and contorted by superconductors, which have no resistance to the electrical current and can thus levitate in the air and move indefinitely with a single touch. Superconductors are incredibly useful in magnetic levitation trains, MRI machines, rapid computing, nuclear fusion and the lossless transmission of electricity. Currently, all power transmission results in some loss of energy—on average 2%—in the form of heat. However, according to Science Magazine, a superconductor can transmit electricity over any distance with no energy loss due to its zero resistance property.

Nonetheless, all present superconductors have their faults. Some must be highly depressurized or cooled to near-absolute-zero or far below zero temperatures to reach their critical points—the point at which material becomes superconductive. Since both extreme cooling and depressurization are expensive, modern uses of superconductors are relatively limited.

“The creation of an ambient superconductor would greatly change the electronics industry by revolutionizing quantum computing and the creation of phone chips. Additionally, it would boost business for companies that are able to get ahold of this material,” Junior Alon Vals said.

On July 25, a team of Korean researchers posted a video displaying a levitating chip of metal, which they claimed was a superconductor made of copper, lead, phosphorus

Jane Hong Art

and oxygen named LK-99, after the researchers’ names and the year it was supposedly first discovered, 1999. The researchers claimed that LK-99 was a superconductor that could function at standard pressure and room temperature. Their main evidence for this claim was the material’s ability to levitate above a magnet and moments where its electrical resistance dropped to near zero.

Jane Hong Art

However, these results were unable to be replicated, with only one team in China being able to achieve partial levitation. According to Nature Magazine, a team of U.S. researchers also questioned the video’s validity, explaining that the material’s structure made superconductivity impossible. Also, the drops in resistance could also be explained by the copper sulfide in the material which, when tested, had similarly timed drops to those in the LK-99 findings.

“Scientists should verify the reproducibility of their results and pass peer reviews before releasing their discoveries to the public to prevent the spread of misinformation,” Sophomore Aishwarya Vinodh said.

While LK-99 is likely not a true ambient superconductor, other materials have shown promise. In March, University of Rochester researchers claimed to have created a superconductor from lutetium—another rare earth metal—and hydrogen that functioned at near room temperature. However, other teams presented doubt over the practicality of the material because it had to be pressurized to ten times the pressure at the bottom of the ocean to reach its point of criticality. Nevertheless, the Rochester laboratory hopes their lutetium-hydrogen superconductor will be a major step forward for the field and inspire further research. Should scientists succeed in finding a cheap ambient superconductor, society would likely experience a generational leap in technological ability.

 

About the Contributors

Adrian Tomaszewski staff writer Adrian Tomaszewski is a junior at Leland High School and is a staff writer for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys swimming, cooking, listening to music, ranting about politics to unsuspecting victims, and playing video games.

Jane Hong artist Jane Hong is a sophomore at Leland High School and is an artist for the Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys listening to K-pop music, dancing, sleeping, and doodling.

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