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March 11, 2010

Superinsulation Riddle Solved

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IEEE Spectrum reports researchers have recently worked out a theory of how superinsulation works at microscopic scales

In 2008 a team of physicists from Argonne National Laboratory, in Illinois, and other institutions stumbled upon an odd phenomenon. They called it superinsulation, because in many ways it was the opposite of superconductivity. Now they’ve worked out the theory behind it, potentially opening the doors to better batteries, supersensitive sensors, and strange new circuits.

They say that superinsulation, like superconductivity, is caused at low temperatures by electrons that form what are known as Cooper pairs. In a superconductor the pairs move together collectively, which means there is no resistance to impede the flow of current. In a superinsulator, on the other hand, the Cooper pairs repel one another, and thus prevent any current from flowing. So far the theory and experiments have been confined to thin films of titanium nitride.

Chilling a thin film of titanium nitride to nearly absolute zero results in the electrical resistance increasing by 100 000 times its original level.

A device made from superconductors and superinsulators might lose no heat at all during operation.




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