science world

Mumbai research team set to upend field of superconductivity with new discovery

Scientists at TIFR have discovered superconductivity in Bismuth, an element for which the property was thought to be immensely unlikely.

A research team at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai have discovered a new property of the chemical element Bismuth that could change the entire study of superconductive materials, which are those substances that can conduct electricity without resistance.

In a peer-reviewed paper published in Science magazine’s December issue, the researchers at TIFR demonstrated properties of superconductivity in a high-quality single crystal of Bismuth, a semi-metal that is the 83rd element in the periodic table. Scientists once thought superconductivity in bulk for Bismuth was very unlikely.

“We knew that if you could establish superconductivity in Bismuth, it will lead to a new theory of superconductivity,” said S Ramakrishnan, a professor who led the research. “We wanted to show that if it is a superconductor, it will be a completely new one.”

Bismuth is a very unusual element in the periodic table and it has properties very different from other superconducting metals, he explained. In other metals, there is one mobile electron per atom and this conducts electricity. In Bismuth, one mobile electron is shared by 1,00,000 atoms. The researchers at TIFR found, at ultra low temperatures, the element can become a superconductor.

Scientists had earlier considered the possibility that Bismuth might be a superconductor, but they did not examine its properties below a certain temperature and so gave up the idea. In 2011, TIFR installed a copper nuclear refrigeration unit that can produce low to ultra-low temperatures. This unit was used to produce the results by January 2016. Only 20 such units exist in the world.

Ordinary conductors of electricity, like copper, produce resistance – this means an electric current cannot run through them indefinitely. Superconductors, however, can conduct currents indefinitely because they have no resistance. Superconductors are used in machines as diverse as MRIs in hospitals to particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider.

The Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer theory which explained how superconductivity works in 1957 explains the mechanism for all other metals. A theory explaining how it works in Bismuth is yet to be formulated.

“We are eagerly waiting for the theory,” Ramakrishnan said. “If that comes, we can cook up other elements that come up with superconductivity at more comfortable temperatures. We have to work together with theorists to really understand what is happening.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

Play

Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Livogen and not by the Scroll editorial team.