Scientists discover an alloy with superconducting properties in the Australian Mundrabilla meteorite
Scientists discover an alloy with superconducting properties in the Australian Mundrabilla meteorite, which is the first time the material has been shown to form in space
- Scientists analyzed samples of the Mundrabilla meteorite in Australia
- They found traces of an alloy with superconducting properties
- It is the first time that superconductors are formed in space
- Many believe that superconductors can be the key to a stable quantum computer
A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego discovered traces of an alloy with superconducting properties in the remains of a meteorite, the first evidence that superconductors could form in space.
The team was led by Ivan Schuller of UC San Diego and was supported by a grant from the United States Air Force.
In the past, researchers have mainly tried to make superconducting alloys in laboratories, but significantly less energy has been spent finding naturally occurring superconductors.
A team of UC San Diego scientists analyzed samples of the Mundrabilla meteorite in Australia (shown above) and found an alloy with superconducting properties, the first time a superconductor was shown to be from space
That’s exactly what the team discovered when examining samples of the Mundrabilla meteorite, which was originally discovered in Australia in 1911 and is one of the largest ever found on Earth.
The team analyzed the samples using a technique called modulated microwave spectroscopy (MFMMS), where samples are exposed to magnetic and microwave radiation in a vacuum that can be cooled to low temperatures.
The team found an alloy of iridium, lead and tin in the meteorite sample that responded to MFMMS in a manner consistent with superconductor.
Previous research had shown that the specific alloy was a superconductor, but no one had ever shown that the alloy existed in space.
“The big takeaway is that there is superconductivity in the air, which occurs naturally,” Ivan Schuller of UC San Diego told Gizmodo.
Initially, the team was skeptical of their own findings and asked researchers from the Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island to check their work.
“Your first reaction is that it makes you fake, it’s something else,” said James Wampler of UC San Diego.
“It’s very cynical, not in a bad way, but if you’re cynical, double check yourself.”
Superconductors have become increasingly valuable in recent years as an important component in quantum computers
After the Brookhaven team verified their work, the team accepted that they had made an important discovery.
The search for superconductors in recent years has been connected to everything from magnetically floating trains to quantum computers.
Superconductors essentially transfer electricity from one atom to another without physical resistance, resulting in no excess heat or other energy produced as a result of the transfer.
The alloy Schuller and his team in the meteorite do not have superconducting properties until they cool to five degrees Kelvin, or around minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still, the team believes their discovery suggests the possibility that there are more naturally occurring superconductors to be discovered.
“There are all these materials that God has provided,” Schuller said after first disclosing his team’s research.
“Why not watch them?”
WHAT IS A QUANTUM COMPUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The key to a quantum computer is the ability to operate based on a circuit that is not only ‘on’ or ‘off’, but at the same time occupies a state that is both ‘on’ and ‘off’.
While this may seem strange, it is due to the laws of quantum mechanics, which determine the behavior of the particles that make up an atom.
On this microscale, matter works in ways that would be impossible on the macroscale of the universe in which we live.
Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as ‘superposition’, until they are seen or disturbed.
A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit of a phosphorus atom positioned precisely in silicon. Scientists have discovered how to get the qubits to talk to each other
A good analogy is that of a coin spinning in the air. It cannot be said to be a “head” or “tail” until it lands.
The heart of modern computers is binary code, which has served computers for decades.
While a classic computer has “bits” consisting of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has “qubits” that can take the value of zero or one or even both.
One of the major stumbling blocks to the development of quantum computers has been shown to be able to beat classic computers.
Google, IBM and Intel are among the competing companies to achieve this.