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Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap
By France Griggs Sloat

Interest in superconductors waxed and waned in the 1980s as one ceramic compound after another was discovered that offered superconducting properties at increasingly higher temperatures. Through it all, associate professor of physics Steve Herbert carried on with research that doesn’t seek a better material but rather concentrates on how electrons behave when they’re in one.

Now that superconductors are making a comeback with some new developments, Herbert is back on the cutting edge.

“I’m looking at ways superconductors go superconducting in two dimensions, where electrons are moving in one plane up and down or forward and backward,” he says. “It means we can control them.” So when he’s not teaching, Herbert is sending electric currents through superconductors of different shapes.

“I’m studying the behavior of the current as I adjust the shape of the array,” Herbert says. The down side is they work only at super-low temperatures—absolute zero or negative 450 degrees Fahrenheit—where current meets no electrical resistance. The more that is learned about superconducting behavior, he says, the sooner we may see technologies like cheaper energy to heat our homes and quantum computers—super-complex machines based not on today’s binary computing but on multi-state quantum theory.

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