In many cases, one is not enough. In this scenario, one failed experiment led to a crucial piece of technology being neglected. However, with enough time, new things will be discovered.
A new study by researchers such as Prof. Andrej Pustogow from the Institute of Solid State Physics at TU Wien alongside many other international research teams took a closer look at strontium ruthenate, a material known for and involved in superconductivity. This material was tested and experimented on in the 1990’s to find a novel form of superconductors. It was disproven at the time, and the experiment was called off.
Before we talk more about strontium ruthenate, we need to first understand what superconductivity is. According to the Vienna University of Technology, “Superconductivity is one of the great mysteries of solid-state physics: certain materials lose their electrical resistance completely at low temperatures. This effect is still not fully understood. What is certain, however, is that so-called “Cooper pairs” play a central role in superconductivity.”
Prof. Pustogow says that in a normal metal, electric current is created by individual electrons colliding and crashing into each other. However, a material considered a superconductor has electrons that move in pairs. “This changes the situation dramatically,” he explains. “It’s similar to the difference between a crowd in a busy shopping street and the seemingly effortless motion of a dancing couple on the dance floor.”
While a normal electron spins, the ones in Cooper pairs do not. In a Cooper pair, one electron spins while pointing upwards, while the other one spins downwards. But what makes strontium ruthenate so special is that it does not obey this law for superconductivity. This was shocking news, and allowed the molecule to be used for so many new purposes.
Interestingly enough, Professor Pustogow and his team weren’t actually studying the material for this reason. “Actually, we studied this material for a completely different reason,” says Andrej Pustogow. “But in the process, we realized that these old measurements could not be correct.” However, they realised that previous measurements from past studies were incorrect, and did not match the results that they were getting. This discovery allowed them to realize that this discovery was in fact, not real. Unfortunately, the hope of an incredible superconductor is now lost, but this discovery has allowed people to learn about the science behind superconductors.