All that Andrew McCalip wished for his thirty fourth birthday was a cargo of pink phosphorus. It was a tricky request—the substance occurs to be an ingredient for cooking meth and is managed by the US Drug Enforcement Company—but in addition a necessary one, if McCalip was going to comprehend his dream of creating a room-temperature superconductor, a holy grail of condensed matter physics, in his startup’s lab over the subsequent week. It required 4 components, and up to now he had entry to 3.
His followers on X (that’s, Twitter, post-rebrand), supplied concepts: He may soften down the heads of a pile of matchsticks, or attempt to purchase it in pure kind off Etsy, the place the DEA may not be trying. Others supplied connections to Japanese European suppliers. They have been deeply invested in his effort. Like McCalip, many had realized a few doable superconductor referred to as LK-99 earlier that week via a publish on Hacker Information, which linked to an Arxiv preprint during which a trio of South Korean researchers had claimed a discovery that, of their phrases, “opens a brand new period for humankind.” Now McCalip was amongst these racing to duplicate it.
Superconductivity—a set of properties during which electrical resistance drops to zero—usually seems solely underneath frigid or excessive stress circumstances. However the researchers claimed LK-99 exhibited these qualities at room temperature and atmospheric stress. Among the many proof: an obvious drop in resistance to zero at 400 Kelvin (127 levels Celsius) and a video of the fabric levitating above a magnet. The authors, led by Ji-Hoon Kim and Younger-Wan Kwon, proposed that this was the results of the Meissner impact, the expulsion of a magnetic area as a cloth crosses the edge of superconductivity. If that have been true, it may certainly result in a brand new period: resistanceless energy traces, sensible levitating trains, and highly effective quantum devices.
On X and Reddit, giant language fashions glided by the wayside. The brand new star was condensed matter physics. On-line betting markets have been spun up (the chances: not significantly good). Anons with a unusually refined information of digital band construction went to struggle with techno-optimistic influencers cheering on an obvious resurgence of technological progress. Their mantra was seductive, and possibly a bit reductive: a return to a time of leapfrogging discoveries—the lightbulb, the Manhattan Venture, the web—the place the affect of scientific discovery is tangible throughout the span of a human’s earthly presence. “We’re again,” as one X consumer put it.
Consultants are uncertain. A number of variations of the LK-99 paper have appeared on-line with inconsistent information—reportedly the results of warring between the authors in regards to the exact nature of the declare. The researchers aren’t well-known within the area, and their evaluation lacks primary exams usually used to verify superconductivity. Spurious claims are additionally so widespread within the area that physicists joke about USOs—“unidentified superconducting objects”—a play on UFOs. (Most up-to-date sighting: a room-temperature, high-pressure materials from a College of Rochester lab that has been dogged by accusations of plagiarism and rigged information.) There are extra probably explanations for the levitation, explains Richard Greene, a condensed matter physicist on the College of Maryland, together with magnetic properties within the compound in its regular, non-superconducting state. The betting markets in all probability had it proper: Odds are the brand new period will not be but upon us.
However the declare remains to be value trying out, Greene provides. In his lengthy profession learning superconductive supplies, he’s seen advances come from outsiders with puzzling papers that explored unfamiliar kinds of compounds. That features, within the Eighties, a category of supplies that exhibited superconductivity above the boiling level of liquid nitrogen (–196 levels C), making method for all kinds of purposes, from magnetic resonance imagery to tokamaks for nuclear fusion. Plus, as a result of physicists perceive the mechanics of solely sure types of superconductivity, a seemingly unusual or inconsistent consequence can’t instantly be discounted. Maybe it’s simply one thing no person has seen earlier than.