University of Colorado scientists claim to have discovered a new superconductor material that can work under "easily attained temperatures".
Last September, chemists at the University, Don David, Dave Pappas and Xian Wu, came across a new metal combination that, they said, could pave the way for cutting-edge supercomputers.
However, they have only now released the recipe for the superconductor. It consists of an ultra-thin layer of rhenium, a silvery-white metal with one of the highest melting points of all elements in the periodic table, sitting between layers of gold, measuring just 1/1000th the diameter of a human hair.
Detailing the material in academic journal Applied Physics Letters, the researchers described their finding as "surprising" and claim it could accelerate the development of future computing systems.
Project leader Don David, director of the CIRES Integrated Instrument Development Facility, said: "The sheer magnitude of the critical temperature [it could withstand] was unexpected."
Superconductors are materials that exhibit zero electrical resistance when they are cooled down. However, achieving an extremely low temperature to get this result is not easy.
We had been thinking for a while about ways to impart superconducting properties to gold and copper films, and we were surprised at how robust and effective the thin layer of electroplated Rhenium was
But the researchers said electroplated rhenium could be the answer, arguing that it "meets ideal characteristics desired" for use in "ultrafast, next-generation computing applications".
As well as delivering higher, easier-to-achieve critical temperatures, the material is generally easy to work with and is non-toxic. Additionally, it can melt at high temperatures.
In this project, the scientists used a technique called electroplating, which is essentially when an electrical current is put through a dissolved metal. The aim here is to generate a metal coating.
David said he and his team do this "almost daily" and work with a range of organisations.
Here, they were tasked with finding a superconducting metal plate for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Quantum Processing Group.
The technologists had tried a range of combinations, but Xian Wu - a colleague of David's - one day recommended that they give rhenium a go. After testing for electrical resistance, it proved to be a success.
David said: "We had been thinking for a while about ways to impart superconducting properties to gold and copper films, and we were surprised at how robust and effective the thin layer of electroplated Rhenium was."
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