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.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

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