Superconductor claim debunked — more likely "a type of magnet"

The science world and the online world blew up a few weeks ago with the claim of South Korean researchers that they had created a material, called LK-99, that is an ambient temperature/pressure superconductor. While there was much skepticism about the announcement, there was also great excitement, as it would have been one of the great discoveries in human history, with profound benefits to technology, energy, transportation, medicine, computing, etc. See here and here.

Unfortunately, a consensus is building in the scientific community that the material is not a superconductor. Link to the article in The Washington Post here.

Now the claim is rapidly deflating under scientific study. Over the last few days, papers from academic labs scattered across the globe have built up evidence that LK-99 is not a superconductor and is more likely a type of magnet.

Philip W. Phillips, a condensed matter theoretical physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been watching the attempts to replicate the South Korean researchers' results carefully.

By Tuesday night, though, the case was closed for him, based on a series of papers that came online in the last day making a convincing case that LK-99 is not a superconductor. "One more nail in the coffin," Phillips wrote in an email, forwarding yet another paper that adds to the pile of evidence. "So your headline is quite simple."

Many scientists believe the researchers should have been more careful before making such an explosive claim. Yet the episode is an example of the scientific process working: There was an assertion of a discovery, but experiments trying to replicate it proved it to be false.

"The part of it where it shines a light on the subject and its potential utility, and how it's super fascinating and could eventually lead to a breakthrough technology — that part of it is great," said Maissam Barkeshli, a theoretical condensed matter physicist at the University of Maryland.

"I guess my conclusion on all this is I'm kind of happy to see it — it's the first time in a really long time that we've seen science not be so political. We're all just happy about science, and it's kind of cool," said Christopher H. Hendon, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oregon. …

"At the end of the day, science fails more often than not," Hendon said, adding that "this would be not surprising if [LK-99] went the way of most experiments — that's how science is."