Scientists discover an alloy with superconducting properties in Australia’s Mundrabilla meteorite, marking the first time the material has been shown to form in space
- Scientists analyzed samples from the Mundrabilla meteorite in Australia
- They found traces of an alloy with superconducting properties
- It marks the first time superconductors have been shown to form in space
- Many believe superconductors could be the key to a stable quantum computer
A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego have discovered traces of an alloy with superconducting properties in the remnants of a meteorite, the first evidence that superconductors could form in space.
The team was led by UC San Diego’s Ivan Schuller, and backed by a grant from the US Air Force.
In the past, researchers have mostly tried to create superconducting alloys in laboratories, but considerably less energy has been spent on finding naturally occurring superconductors.
A team of scientists from UC San Diego analyzed samples from the Mundrabilla meteorite in Australia (pictured above) and found an alloy with superconducting properties, the first time a superconductor has been shown to have come from space
That’s just what the team found when they examined samples from the Mundrabilla meteorite, which was originally discovered in Australia in 1911 and is among the largest ever to have been found on Earth.
The team analyzed the samples using a technique called modulated microwave spectroscopy (MFMMS), which involves exposing samples to magnetic and microwave radiation in a vacuum that can be cooled to low temperatures.
The team found an alloy of iridium, lead, and tin in the meteorite sample that reacted to MFMMS in a way that was consistent with superconductor.
Previous research had shown the specific alloy was a superconductor but no one had ever shown the alloy existed in space.
‘The big takeaway is that there is superconductivity in the sky, naturally occurring,’ UC San Diego’s Ivan Schuller told Gizmodo.
Initially the team was skeptical of their own findings and asked researchers from the Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island to double check their work.
‘Your first reaction is that it’s faking you out, it’s something else,’ UC San Diego’s James Wampler said.
‘It’s very cynical, not in a bad way, but being cynical makes you double check yourself.’
Superconductors have been increasingly valuable in recent years as a key component in quantum computers
After the Brookhaven team verified their work, the team accepted that they’d made a significant discovery.
The search for superconductors in recent years has been connected to everything from magnetically levitating trains to quantum computers.
Superconductors essentially transfer electricity with one atom to another with no physical resistance, resulting in no excess heat or other energy produced as a result of the transfer.
The alloy Schuller and his team found in the meteorite doesn’t have superconductive properties until its cooled to five degrees Kelvin, or around minus-450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still, the team believes their discovery suggests the possibility that there are still more naturally occurring superconductors that have yet be discovered.
‘There are all these materials that God has provided,’ Schuller said after first making his team’s research public.
‘Why not look at them?’
WHAT IS A QUANTUM COMPUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The key to a quantum computer is its ability to operate on the basis of a circuit not only being ‘on’ or ‘off’, but occupying a state that is both ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time.
While this may seem strange, it’s down to the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern the behaviour of the particles which make up an atom.
At this micro scale, matter acts in ways that would be impossible at the macro scale of the universe we live in.
Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as ‘superposition’, until they are either seen or interfered with.
A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit from a phosphorus atom precisely positioned in silicon. Scientists have discovered how to make the qubits ‘talk to one another
A good analogy is that of a coin spinning in the air. It cannot be said to be either a ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ until it lands.
The heart of modern computing is binary code, which has served computers for decades.
While a classical computer has ‘bits’ made up of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has ‘qubits’ which can take on the value of zero or one, or even both simultaneously.
One of the major stumbling blocks for the development of quantum computers has been demonstrating they can beat classical computers.
Google, IBM, and Intel are among companies competing to achieve this.
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