In a recent wave of excitement, researchers claimed to have synthesized the world’s first room-temperature superconductor, known as LK-99, which supposedly operates at ambient pressure and exhibits superconductivity characteristics due to a unique structural distortion. The intricate details of the claim, rooted in the modifications of the lead-apatite structure and the effects of superconducting quantum wells (SQWs) in the interface, captivated the scientific community. However, this groundbreaking assertion was soon met with skepticism. Renowned Professor Philip Moriarty and physicist Sabine Hossenfelder swiftly took to their respective platforms, releasing videos that critically examine and debunk the veracity of these ambitious claims, urging for a more cautious and meticulous approach to such profound scientific proclamations.
What is superconductivity?
Superconductivity is a phenomenon whereby an electric current moves through a material without any resistance (without any loss). These materials are called “superconductors”, and they conduct electricity without resistance and could therefore revolutionize electronics and power grids. The superconductivity phenomenon was discovered in 1911 by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (21 September 1853 – 21 February 1926).
Room-temperature superconductivity: a long-sought goal
Superconductors conduct electricity without resistance and could therefore revolutionize electronics and power grids. So far, however, the resistance-free (means loss-free) flow of electrons only worked with deep-frozen materials. Now, for the first time, researchers have succeeded in making a material superconducting at room temperature – but, unfortunately, at extremely high pressures.
Superconductivity gives materials two decisive properties: First, their electrical resistance disappears so that in this state they conduct electrons without loss. On the other hand, they repel magnetic fields, which deflect magnetic field lines around the material. This allows superconductors to float on a magnetic field – and this in turn enables applications such as magnetic levitation trains.
Superconductors are also used in particle accelerators, in magnetic resonance tomography, or in quantum computers. So far, however, these superconductors have only lost their electrical resistance at ultra-cold temperatures, so they have to be cooled in a complex manner – for example with liquid nitrogen or helium. The cost of keeping these materials at very cold temperatures is so high.
That is why scientists have been looking for decades for materials that turn into superconductors with little cooling or even at room temperature.
Until 1986, superconductivity above 30 K (-243.15 °C) was deemed impossible per BCS theory. However, discoveries in lanthanum barium copper oxide, and its variant with yttrium, broke this barrier. The higher temperatures simplified refrigeration, shifting from expensive liquid helium to cheaper liquid nitrogen.
Despite discovering many such superconductors, understanding their superconductivity remains a challenge, with resonating-valence-bond theory and spin fluctuation as the prevailing hypotheses.
In 2008, holographic superconductivity was proposed. The record for the highest-temperature superconductor stood with a mercury-barium-calcium-copper-oxygen compound until iron-based superconductors and hydrogen compounds demonstrated high temperatures under extreme pressures.
In 2018, superconductivity was achieved in twisted bilayer graphene.
A 2020 paper claimed room-temperature superconductivity in a hydrogen-carbon-sulfur compound, but it was retracted in 2022 due to concerns about data processing.
The new claims about the superconductivity of LK-99 were debunked
As mentioned above, there was a significant buzz when scientists purported to have developed the world’s inaugural room-temperature superconductor, LK-99. Allegedly, this superconductor worked at ambient pressure, its distinct attributes tied to a specialized deformation in the lead-apatite structure, and the influence of superconducting quantum wells (SQWs) within its interface. This audacious declaration immediately enthralled the global scientific arena. Yet, skepticism arose swiftly. Professor Philip Moriarty and physicist Sabine Hossenfelder promptly responded, leveraging their platforms to dissect and challenge the veracity of these bold proclamations, calling for rigorous scrutiny and measured enthusiasm in the face of such notable scientific assertions.
Video: Bad Science and Room Temperature Superconductors
Professor Philip Moriarty critiques a paper claiming the discovery of the first room temperature ambient pressure superconductor. The paper had gained significant attention on social media and was described by its authors as a groundbreaking development for humanity. Key points of critique include:
- Quick Discreditation: Shortly after its publication on 22nd July 2023, the paper received widespread criticism from the scientific community.
- Data Presentation Concerns: Moriarty highlights that the way data is presented in the paper is not conventional. The resistivity as a function doesn’t align with how a superconductor should behave.
- Resistivity Scale Issue: Moriarty points out discrepancies in the resistivity scale used in the paper. He compares the presented values to standard ones from a first-year physics textbook and finds them lacking.
- Presentation of Results: Moriarty suggests that if the researchers truly believed their sample had achieved superconductivity, they would have presented their results differently, emphasizing the extraordinary resistivity values.
- Scientific Skepticism: A shared sentiment on social media questioned why more scientists weren’t excited about the discovery. Moriarty responds that a scientist’s training encourages skepticism, especially when lab results show something unexpected. The initial reaction should be to verify and cross-check results rather than hastily publicize them.
- Peer Review: The paper wasn’t peer-reviewed before gaining widespread attention. Moriarty suggests that it’s audacious to make such significant claims without the validation that comes from the peer review process.
- Authorship Concerns: The group behind the paper is from Korea and apparently lacks a significant background in superconductivity. This raised more doubts about the paper’s authenticity.
- Potential Erosion of Trust: Moriarty expresses concern that when grand claims like this are made and subsequently debunked, it can erode the public’s trust in scientific research.
In summary, Professor Philip Moriarty heavily critiques the paper on room temperature superconductivity, pointing out multiple flaws and emphasizing the importance of proper scientific processes and verification.
Sabine Hossenfelder’s Videos about LK-99
Sabine Hossenfelder recently discussed the significant claims of a Korean group about discovering a room-temperature, atmospheric-pressure superconductor, dubbed LK-99. Here’s a concise summary:
- A Korean research group reported discovering a room-temperature superconductor, named LK-99.
- In simple terms, a superconductor offers zero electrical resistance and repels magnets. However, most known superconductors need extremely low temperatures or high pressures, or sometimes both.
- A genuine room-temperature superconductor could revolutionize the electric grid, enable feasible hyperloops, and potentially reduce the costs of building larger particle colliders.
- LK-99 stands for the surnames of its discoverers, Lee and Kim, and the year they first synthesized it. There was a patent filed for this discovery earlier in the year.
- Controversially, the third author uploaded the paper without the knowledge of the primary authors.
- There are concerns with the study, such as missing measurements for electric resistivity drop and the unusual behavior of resistivity values.
- Although not peer-reviewed, the paper was published in a Korean journal earlier, hinting at internal group disputes over discovery credits.
- A provided video supposedly showing the Meissner effect (where a superconductor floats above a magnet) seemed unconvincing to Hossenfelder, suggesting the material might merely be diamagnetic.
- Many experts in condensed matter expressed skepticism, and various labs attempted to recreate the findings, with one lab even live-streaming their process.
- Hossenfelder speculates that initial replication efforts might dismiss the LK-99 superconducting claim, leading to debates on synthesis methods, and potentially the discovery fading into obscurity. However, she sees a positive trend if more labs adopt live-streaming their experiments, bringing more transparency to the scientific process.
In the second video, Sabine Hossenfelder provides an update on the claimed room temperature superconductor, LK-99:
- LK-99 Superconductor Update: The supposed room temperature superconductor, LK-99, which was announced by a Korean research group, has sparked numerous reproduction efforts globally.
- Reproduction Results: Many groups have attempted to reproduce the findings using the instructions given by the Korean team. The outcomes have mostly been negative or inconclusive. However, LK-99’s diamagnetic properties (repelled by magnets) have been consistently confirmed.
- Chinese Group Claims: One group from China claims LK-99 exhibits levitation characteristics of a superconductor, and they’ve published a paper on arXiv. Another video by a different Chinese team alleges they observed flux pinning, an effect in superconductors where they are held in place due to magnetic field lines. However, there’s no paper to substantiate this claim. Yet another Chinese team suggests the material is superconducting, but only at temperatures below 100 Kelvin, with a relevant paper available on arXiv.
- Theoretical Investigation: A theoretical exploration into the material’s structure deduced it might be a room-temperature superconductor, but it’s not definitive.
- Fake Videos: Misleading videos of floating rocks have emerged on social media platforms, with some creators revealing them as hoaxes to raise awareness.
- Current State: The community remains perplexed about the material’s exact properties. While its behavior appears inconsistent across different tests, there’s no universal confirmation of LK-99’s resistivity dropping to zero at room temperature.
- Closing Note: Hossenfelder likens the excitement and ambiguity surrounding LK-99 to the cold fusion saga in physics (see below).
In 1989, electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons at the University of Utah announced that they had achieved “cold fusion,” a revolutionary nuclear reaction that could produce vast amounts of energy at room temperature. Their claim implied that this process could generate a nearly unlimited, cheap, and clean energy source, bypassing the extreme conditions typically needed for nuclear fusion. Their findings, if proven accurate, would have transformed global energy systems and provided a solution to many energy challenges.
However, the excitement was short-lived. Numerous laboratories around the world attempted to replicate Fleischmann and Pons’ experiments, with many failing to reproduce the results. Scientists raised questions regarding the researchers’ methodologies, and various inconsistencies were pointed out. Notably, the expected nuclear byproducts weren’t detected in amounts consistent with the claimed heat production.
Over time, the initial fervor surrounding cold fusion cooled significantly, as the broader scientific community grew skeptical due to the lack of consistent replication and theoretical justification. It
became emblematic of the pitfalls of premature scientific announcements and the dangers of bypassing traditional peer-review mechanisms. Several factors contributed to its transformation into a symbol of flawed scientific process and exuberant claims:
- Immediate Publicity and Haste: Instead of first submitting their findings to a peer-reviewed journal where experts could scrutinize their methods and results, Fleischmann and Pons made their groundbreaking claims directly to the media during a press conference. This atypical announcement method bypassed the usual checks and balances of the scientific process.
- Significant Implications: The promise of cold fusion was staggering: a near-limitless, clean, and cheap energy source. If proven true, it had the potential to revolutionize the global energy landscape. The magnitude of these claims only increased the scrutiny they faced.
- Reproducibility Issues: Fundamental to the scientific method is the notion that experiments should be reproducible. When numerous esteemed labs and scientists couldn’t replicate the results of Fleischmann and Pons, skepticism grew rapidly. Many researchers reported not observing the excess heat claimed, and none could detect the nuclear byproducts expected from fusion reactions.
- Theoretical Anomalies: Cold fusion, as described by Fleischmann and Pons, defied established scientific understanding. There was no theoretical foundation explaining how fusion, typically requiring extreme temperatures and pressures in stars, could occur at room temperature in a laboratory.
- Retraction and Controversy: Further doubt was cast when some of the initial positive replications were retracted. Allegations of errors, both in the original work and in subsequent supportive experiments, further muddled the scene.
- The Dichotomy of Opinion: The intense debate between a handful of staunch cold fusion supporters and a larger, skeptical scientific community drew significant media attention. This battle of beliefs played out in the media and solidified the public perception of the controversy.
In the end, cold fusion became a cautionary tale in the scientific community. It highlighted the importance of rigorous peer review, the dangers of overhyping preliminary results, and the necessity for reproducibility in scientific experimentation. The episode served as a reminder that in science, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
- Superconductivity on Wikipedia
- Study: The First Room-Temperature Ambient-Pressure Superconductor (Arxiv)
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