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Question:
What will future uses of superconductors be when and if a room- temperature super conductor is made?



Replies:
Some of the obvious uses would be power transmission lines, motors, computer chips, energy storage devices, and bearings.


The actual applications depend a lot on how much current you can pass through the superconductor - superconductors always have a limiting 'critical current', and if you try to push more current through then it loses its superconductivity and it is not much use. If the critical current is very large, you might see superconducting power lines and superconducting wires all over the place, probably replacing copper if the price is right (applications also depend on how long a wire of the stuff you can make, though there are all sorts of techniques for turning brittle stuff into wires). One of the big applications is expected to be in energy storage, because you can make a superconducting ring and pump current into it and the current just keeps on going round in a loop, so the supply and demand for electricity can be kept in balance by filling it up when supply is greater, and emptying it when demand is greater.

The other application people talk a lot about is the use for levitation - superconductors expel magnetic fields so you can support a piece of superconductor on nothing but a magnetic field, so it looks like it is floating in thin air. However, I am not sure how practical that is. More likely, again if large critical currents can be sustained, is the use of the superconductors to make huge electromagnets which can also be used for levitation or other magnetic applications, without the power consumption of normal electromagnets.

Arthur Smith



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