The discovery of the phenomenon of superconductivity by Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911 was the first indication of the possibility of electrical conduction without any associated Joule loss. The technological application of the property (which was essentially manifested at liquid helium temperatures) had to await the development of stable superconducting materials capable of withstanding high currents and large magnetic fields. Although many materials — elements, alloys, ternary chalcogenides, and recently oxides — have been found to be superconducting, only a few of them have received attention for significant applications. This is based on three important parameters namelyTc, the transition temperature,Hc2, the upper critical field andJc, the critical current density.Tc andHc2 are considered intrinsic to the material, whileJc is influenced by the microstructure, and has to be optimised during fabrication of the material in the useful form. On these considerations, Nb-Ti, Nb3Sn and V3Ga have emerged as proven materials for significant applications while PbMo6S8 is still under development. Despite the fact that all these materials have to be used only at liquid helium temperatures on account of their lowTc, major developments have taken place in harnessing particularly the niobium alloys to produce superconducting magnets.
Towards the end of 1986, a break-through has been achieved in the direction of raising theTc. Many ceramic oxides, notably Y1Ba2Cu3O7, have exhibitedTc in the vicinity of 100 K. These materials have also been shown to have highHc2, about 180 Tesla. Attempts are now being made to realise a highJc. It is too early to say whether such materials can be fabricated in suitable forms capable of carrying high currents.
Among the major areas in which superconducting materials have so far been used, mention should be made of superconducting magnets for high energy particle accelerators, magnetohydrodynamic power generation, magnetic resonance imaging, and fusion research programmes. In other potential applications such as motors and magnetically levitated transportation, economic break-even has not been achieved, mostly on account of the need to use liquid helium. The discovery of the high temperature superconductors capable of operating at liquid nitrogen temperatures thus promises a revolution in electrical technology.
The paper reviews the development and applications of superconducting materials, with reference to work being done in India.
Volume 45, 2022
Continuous Article Publishing mode
Prof. Subi Jacob George — Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Jakkur, Bengaluru
Chemical Sciences 2020
Prof. Surajit Dhara — School of Physics, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad
Physical Sciences 2020
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