Lasers can transform iron into a ‘hotter’ superconductor

Researchers at Tokyo University have successfully “tricked” an iron-based compound into becoming a high-temperature superconductor with the use of lasers configured to the “correct conditions”.

Superconduction at higher temperatures has always been the endgame goal of any research when it comes to superconductors. Every degree of temperature raised towards its practicality means lesser energy to keep it chilled, and less effort to maintain the freezing environment, which leads to an overall increase towards efficiency.

Iron-based compounds can conceivably be made into a superconductor. But the temperature required is usually so low that it negates any efficiency it may have towards most practical superconductor applications. Iron selenide (FeSe) for example, only becomes a superconductor when it is chilled to just 10 degrees below absolute zero (-263 °C). That is essentially only a few degrees “warmer” than the coldest depths of outer space.

However, as already hinted by this article, Tokyo University researchers were able to bypass this inherent limitation, and significantly increase the temperature needed by FeSe to become a superconductor, using a high-energy, ultrafast laser.

After exposure to the laser, the researchers were able to stabilize the superconducting temperature of FeSe to -258 °C, or about five degrees “warmer” than usual. Still a quite far from other commercially usable superconductors. But as mentioned earlier, every single degree takes it a huge step closer to being more practical in the long term.

In comparison, there is another method that can stabilize the superconducting temperature of FeSe to -223 °C. However, this requires the use of intense (and impractical) pressure forces, around 60,000 times that of our own atmosphere at sea level.

Naturally, the next step is to experiment with other laser configurations in order to determine the best variant for this laser-based method. Indeed, the researchers will now “search for more favorable conditions for light-induced superconductivity by using a different kind of light, and eventually achieve room-temperature superconductivity”.

A pretty bold claim, though not completely unfounded, as we have witnessed with their latest achievement.

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