Discovery of the unidirectional superconductor, considered impossible

Associate Professor Mazhar Ali and his research group at TU Delft discovered unidirectional superconductivity without magnetic fields, something thought impossible since its discovery in 1911 – until now. This discovery uses 2D quantum materials and paves the way for superconducting computing. Superconductors can make electronics hundreds of times faster, all without any loss of energy. Ali: “If the 20th century was the century of semiconductors, the 21st may become the century of the superconductor.”

During the 20th century, many scientists, including Nobel laureates, wondered about the nature of superconductivity, which was discovered by Dutch physicist Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911. In superconductors, a current flows through a wire without no resistance, which means inhibiting this current or even blocking it is hardly possible – much less passing current in one direction and not the other. That Dr. Heng Wu and Dr. Yaojia Wang, the principal researchers in Ali’s group who conducted this study, succeeded in making unidirectional superconductivity – necessary for computing – is remarkable: it can be compared to the invention of a special type of ice that gives you zero friction when skating one way, but insurmountable friction the other way.

In the 20th century and beyond, no one could tackle the barrier of making superconducting electrons go in only one direction, which is a fundamental property necessary for computing and other modern electronic devices (consider for example the diodes which also go in one direction). In normal conduction, electrons fly as separate particles; in superconductors, they move in pairs of two, without any loss of electrical energy. In the 1970s, scientists from IBM tried the idea of ​​superconducting computing but had to stop their efforts: in their articles on the subject, IBM mentions that without nonreciprocal superconductivity, a computer running on superconductors is impossible. For more information, see the IDTechEx report on Redesigned electronics 2020-2040.

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