Letter: Sleepless in Seattle

May 4, 2001

David Caplin painted a fascinating picture of hectic events following the accidental discovery of superconductivity at 39K by Jun Akimitsu and colleagues at Aoyama-Gakuin University, Tokyo in the "simple" chemical compound magnesium diboride (Cutting Edge, THES , April ).

The worldwide activity and hysteria highlight a major issue in relation to the search across the periodic table for new superconductors.

I would hazard a guess that not one of those poor 1,000 souls destined to a sleepless night in Seattle at the American Physical Society's March meeting would have ever supported a heroic search for superconductivity in such a material prior to the discovery by Akimitsu et al .

The challenge is simple: to predict and look for entirely new superconductors among the myriad simple and complex compounds of the periodic table of the chemical elements. Albert Einstein noted of superconductors: "Their charm is in three words: zero, infinite and perfect", reflecting a natural state of zero resistance and perfect diamagnetism.

All that is now needed is to unite the physics of this dramatic natural phenomenon with the chemistry of the elements of the periodic table. Do that and you will not find a meeting room big enough to cram them in.

Peter Edwards
School of Chemistry
Metallurgy and Materials
University of Birmingham

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