Some optimism about the claim of a room-temperature superconductor

Last week, South Korean scientists claimed to have developed a room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor, called LK-99. It's hard to overstate how important this discovery would be. Just a few of the applications:

  • Faster electronics
  • Cheaper medical tech
  • Improved quantum computing
  • Frictionless transportation
  • Massively improved energy efficiency
  • Massively improved batteries

One can imagine a discovery of this type being a major contributor to solving climate change.

The problem is that many experts are extremely skeptical about whether these scientists have actually done what they claim. The discovery was published in a "preprint," and so has not been independently reviewed or verified. And there have been many debunked claims of ambient temperature/pressure superconductors in the past.

In other words: Huge, if true.

So the race is on for other laboratories to try to replicate the South Koreans' results to see if their claim is true. The implications of this story are so big, it pays to monitor developments in either debunking or verifying it.

The prestigious journal Science has published a blog post with some positive developments. Its author actually says he is "guardedly optimistic."

There are (unverified) reports that scientists in China have replicated the results.

As of this morning [Tuesday], there are (as yet not really verified) reports of replication from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. At least, a video has been posted showed what could be a sample of LK-99 levitating over a magnet due to the Meissner effect, and in different orientations relative to the magnet itself. That's important, because a (merely!) paramagnetic material can levitate in a sufficiently strong field (as can diamagnetic materials like water droplets and frogs), but these can come back to a particular orientation like a compass needle.

Two other preprints analyzed the reported data of LK-99 and concluded that there is nothing theoretically outside our current physics understanding required for it to be a superconductor.

And even though I'm usually more of an experimental-results guy than a theory guy, two other new preprints interest me greatly. One is from a team at the Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science, and the other is from Sinéad Griffin at Lawrence Berkeley. Both start from the reported X-ray structural data of LK-99 and look at its predicted behavior via density functional theory (DFT) calculations.

And they come to very similar conclusions: it could work. This is quite important, because this could mean that we don't need to postulate completely new physics to explain something like LK-99 – if you'd given the starting data to someone as a blind test, they would have come back after the DFT runs saying "You know, this looks like it could be a really good superconductor."

It's hard to find text that explains the superconductor story simply, but I found this video helpful:

And here is the start of a Twitter thread that seems like a good synopsis of the implications of LK-99: