A lot of the work we do at Brookhaven is what’s called “basic” research. That doesn’t mean it’s simple or easy, but that it informs our knowledge of the fundamental ways the world works. Whether it’s how materials behave or the conditions under which our universe began, studying these things can lead to applications like better fuel cells, cancer therapies, or nanotechnology-inspired batteries that could one day be inside your smartphone.
Some of our scientists spend their days trying to pin down the key to high-temperature superconductivity, the lossless transfer of energy at less extremely cold temperatures than the hundreds of degrees below zero that superconductors usually require to function. The rendering above shows electrons bound together in Cooper pairs, a state of matter known to be responsible for superconductivity. If we can figure out how to harness superconductivity at temperatures that can be easily attained, it would alter America’s energy landscape.
In the course of this research, Brookhaven scientists have developed a switch for turning this valuable capability on and off. Superconductivity depends on three things to be perfectly aligned: a magnetic field, temperature, and electricity. By sending a burst of AC current through a superconductor for just 100 milliseconds, our physicists found that the superconductor will turn off immediately for up to 1 second, spreading the “normal” conductive surface throughout the material evenly. They designed a radio-frequency coil to deliver current to a superconductor, which eliminates the need to adjust the temperature to turn it on or off, a process that takes more resources and can be tough to fine tune. This technology could enable the development of a compact superconducting switching device suitable for power applications such as a superconducting breaker.