Tokyo Institute of Technology materials scientist Dr.Hideo Hosono has added over 1000 materials with about 100 superconductors to a new research database. Hosono is one of Science magazine’s 2008 runners-up breakthroughs of the year for his previous work.

Since then Hosono has built a research team composed of over 40 researchers, who undertook a four-year exploration of more than 1,000 materials to look for new superconductors. They found around 100 new superconducting materials and, in the process, published more than 330 original papers and applied for over 30 patents.

An overview of their results has been published in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials.

First discovered in 1911, superconductivity is the ability of certain metals to conduct an electric current at zero resistance, resulting in no loss of energy. Superconductors could have a huge impact on future energy transmission, for example, since significant amounts of energy are currently lost in the process of transmitting electricity from power plants to their destinations.

To date, superconductivity only happens in some materials at extremely low temperatures. The highest known temperature at which superconductivity occurs is about −135°C. The temperature of liquid nitrogen, by comparison, is −196°C. Researchers dream of finding materials with superconductive properties at room temperature: a feat that has eluded them so far. Materials that superconduct at or near room temperature would have the potential to be easily maintained in everyday environments.

While Dr. Hosono’s team did not discover any new superconductive materials at temperatures above those previously known, its findings are, nevertheless, significant. Dr. Hosono gave his colleagues tremendous flexibility to search for new superconducting materials, believing that excellent solid state chemists would find new properties by serendipity. The results of this project have convinced him that there are many more superconducting materials left to discover.

Dr. Hosono said, “This project found around 100 kinds of new superconductors, [but] there are so many superconductors that we [still] do not know. We hope there will be a room-temperature superconductor among them.”

Among the team’s many successes in the project were the introduction of a new substance (a hydride ion) that induces iron-based superconductivity; the discovery of new cobalt- and titanium-based superconductors; and the design of electrical wires and tapes made from some of the superconducting materials, demonstrating their real-world applicability.

For the study paper the team not only listed the superconducting materials found during the project, but also any materials that had no superconducting properties. “We believe that listing all materials examined, including both successes and failures, is meaningful for the people who work in this field,” they wrote.

“Concentrated exploration for new superconductors under a clear and flexible policy may lead to unexpected discovery,” says Dr. Hosono.

The good Dr. has set a worthy and high value precedent. If everyone listed their trials with both successful and unsuccessful materials listed a database, it would come to be as it grows a treasure trove offering suggestions for intuition as well as serendipity. The bigger and more thorough that sort of thing gets, the more potential it has and increases the chances that better discoveries can be found.

As well as the successes the team has achieved, this humble writer wants to point up the contribution field wide that Dr. Hosono has made with an offer of a respectful bow in the appropriate Japanese manner. Thank you Sir, for both the accomplishments and the example set for everyone.


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