Cheers! Booze can 'induce' superconductivity

Alcoholic drinks turn ceramic compounds into superconductors. Can beer-based unobtainium be far off?

Besides sake, Japan has the depressingly named Zero Life, a diet beer. Booze can impart zero electrical resistance, according to Japanese researchers. Tim Hornyak/CNET

'Tis the season to be pickling your liver in alcohol. And, it turns out, soaking stuff in booze has a salubrious effect besides making people happy. Apparently, it can make materials superconductive.

Research in Japan shows that a soaking in commercial alcohol can turn down the dial on at least one material's electrical conductivity to zero. Yoshihiko Takano and colleagues at the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) outside Tokyo published research describing how booze can induce superconductivity in an iron-tellurium-based substance.

The material isn't normally superconductive, but can be after immersion in an alcoholic beverage heated to about 70 Celsius (158 Fahrenheit). The team then compared the effectiveness of various drinks, including red wine, sake, beer, and shochu (a distilled beverage), and found that red wine was best in inducing superconductivity.

The bizarre result followed experiments by Takano and colleagues in which accidental exposure of the iron compound to air turned it into a superconductor. Other experiments found that soaking the material in water did the trick.

When a fellow superconductivity researcher visited for a lecture, Takano organized a party and wondered whether the sake and beer they were knocking back might also work. To their surprise, 24 hours of bathing in booze did the trick (the results were submitted for publication last August, but are now making the rounds).

The work came nearly a century after Dutch scientist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity in 1911. The phenomenon is still not completely understood despite the attractiveness of superconductors. They conduct electricity with no resistance, and can do neat things like levitate with magnets.

Although superconductivity usually occurs near absolute zero, so-called high-temperature superconductors work at temperatures that can be achieved using liquid nitrogen. The exact mechanism remains unclear, but Takano's studies using iron tellurium sulphur might help explain the phenomenon, and bring the holy grail of a room-temperature superconductor closer to reality.

Takano and associates now have the enviable task of researching with booze. "At present, research is being carried out in order to determine which component of the alcoholic beverages is responsible for the manifestation of superconductivity," NIMS said in a release. Cheers to that.

(Via New Scientist)

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