A group of German researchers made a historic discovery that brings us a big step closer to finding a room temperature superconductor. They found that hydrogen sulfide—the common chemical compound that smells like rotten eggs—conducts electricity with zero resistance at a record high temperature.
A superconductor is a state of matter that is neither a metal nor an insulator; it conducts electricity perfectly. Scientists have already found several uses for superconductors—they are used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines for medical analysis, and superconducting magnets are a key component of the large hadron collider at CERN. However, practical applications for superconductors are limited because they usually only operate at extremely low temperatures, around 100 Kelvin (-173.15 degrees Celsius, -279.67 degrees Fahrenheit) or even lower.
The German researchers discovered that hydrogen sulfide becomes a superconductor when it is subjected to extremely high pressures and then cooled to 205 Kelvin (-90.67 degrees Fahrenheit), which is much warmer than operating temperatures for other known superconductors. The researchers confirmed that the pressurized hydrogen sulfide exhibited two main properties of superconductivity: zero electrical resistance and the Meissner effect, a phenomenon that causes a magnet to levitate above a superconductor.
This breakthrough–finding a superconductor at such high temperatures—could help researchers discover a similar material that operates at room temperature. This advance could eventually lead to perfect electricity generation and transmission, where an electrical current would flow through a superconductive wire without ever degrading or dissipating.
[Editor’s note: we have corrected the Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature conversions in this article.]