TECH

Superconductor Temperature Breakthrough Achieved By Chemicals That Make Rotten Eggs Smell

18/08/2015 10:52 BST | Updated 18/08/2015 10:59 BST

Superconductors are arguably one of our coolest discoveries yet (sorry).

Due to the physics of how electrons work in cold temperatures, they conduct electricity without resistance and when magnets are placed in close vicinity -- levitation becomes possible.

One of the hurdles stopping this from becoming a feature in our living rooms is that superconductors require below-freezing temperatures.

However, scientists have broken a record and proved that they can make superconductors work at -70C -- the previous record was -110C.

A paper published in Nature detailed how German researchers were able to use hydrogen sulfide to achieve superconductivity at this record-breaking temperature.

The only problem is that the chemicals hailed for this feat are the same compounds that make rotten eggs smell.

However, this stinky discovery has not diminished the excitement around what this could mean for us in the long term.

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In an accompanying paper, also published in Nature, Physicist Fan Zhang of the University of Texas at Dallas describes the findings as "historic".

What he is effectively saying is that we are one step closer to using superconductors in our own homes, which could mean a healthier bank balance as far as our electricity bills are concerned.

More excitingly, the new results suggest we could one day zoom around from room to room (providing our floors are magnetic of course) on one of these:

Why hydrogen sulfide and not any other chemical compound?

When hydrogen sulfide is pressurised, it causes electrons to pair up -- a formation known as Cooper pairs -- and flow without resistance.

Scientists believe these pairs conduct charge more efficiently because they are less likely to bump into metal ions and lose energy, the New Scientist reports.

However, in order for Cooper pairs to keep their bonds, very low temperatures are required. Within the hydrogen sulfide system, these bonds are stronger and are less likely to be broken by heat, which is why superconductivity is achieved at a higher temperature.

While we are a long way off from superconductors functioning at room temperature, Mikhail Eremets, one of the researchers, told the New Scientist "theoretically they are not forbidden."