Full steam ahead?

"Full steam ahead?" June 3, 2004, The Economist  http://www.economist.com

Superconductors are starting to become useful

A WAG once said of Brazil that it is tomorrow's country, and always will be.  superconductivity frequently suffers similar jibes.  On the face of things, a technique that allows electricity to be transmitted without resistance should be ubiquitous.  But the obstacles have proved insurmountable for all but niche applications, such as medical imaging.

Three things stand in the way of the wider use of superconductors.  First, they need to be cooled well below room temperature.  Second, those that need the least cooling are the most difficult to work with.  Third, the passage of an electric current creates magnetism, and magnetism tends to destroy superconductivity.

But these obstacles are being overcome.  As a result, superconductivity is starting to appear in applications as diverse as telecoms and electric motors.  There is even talk of reaching superconductor nirvana:  using them for controlling and transmitting large amounts of electrical power.


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