Next generation superconductors – a moonshot project

Suchitra Sebastian is very familiar with the limitations of superconductors. The materials only superconduct at very low temperatures. Much of the ‘intricate quantum dance of the electrons’ is still a mystery to scientists. In Sebastian’s talk A New Generation of Superconductors she discusses her research into new superconducting materials.



Framing the problem as a materials situation instead of a quantum physics question allowed Suchitra to find new potential superconductors. Inspiration came when she realized that many superconductors were almost magnets or almost insulators.


If the ideal materials were very close to magnets, why not take a magnetic material and force it to become a superconductor? Criteria for a material were a layered one dimensional structure, a strong charge interaction, and an insulator. Iron Arsenide was the first candidate material.


Placing iron arsenide crystals inside a diamond load cell and compressing it took away the material’s magnetic properties and introduced semiconducting properties. At a five percent reduction in volume the material became a superconducting material.


Sebastian says that using the right criteria to pick new superconductive materials and using the proper methods to transform them will completely change the way we think about superconductors. The long term goal is to be able to find superconducting materials that can be used at room temperature. Energy storage and transportation will both benefit as new materials are discovered and brought into widespread use.


Suchitra is a great speaker full of enthusiasm and ideas. Her demonstration of a superconducting puck that levitates around a ring is incredible, but then when the entire process is repeated upside down the result is even more amazing.


Her research as part of the Quantum Matter team at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is currently concentrating on perovskite anti-ferroelectrics. Unlike many moonshot projects this feels very ready to move forward on a larger scale. Sebastian’s enthusiasm for materials and changing the world is inspiring.