American researchers have reported an advance in the commercial production of superconductors. Paul Chu and colleagues at the University of Houston reported in the journal Nature last week that they had developed a continuous process for bulk production of an yttrium-barium-copper oxide compound capable of carrying electricity without any resistance.
Superconductors convey electricity far faster than other materials; if perfected, they could be used in ultrafast computers and magnetically powered high-speed trains and considerably cut the cost of power generation.
It was long thought that superconductivity could only be achieved at temperatures far too cold for practical use, but four years ago scientists discovered ceramic compounds capable of superconductivity at far higher temperatures.
Chu and his team said they had produced a bar 2 inches long, 0.19 of an inch wide and 0.12 of an inch thick that conducted electricity consistently, a difficult task when producing ceramic oxides in bulk. It is the first report that something more than a thin wire or grain of superconductor material has been produced.
Although the bar produced by Chu and his team is too small for practical use, the researchers said that theoretically bars of any desired length could be made.