Washington, April 13 : Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with several European institutions, have created the first superinsulator, which can help in the development of a new generation of microelectronics.
Led by Argonne senior scientist Valerii Vinokur and Russian scientist Tatyana Baturina, an international team of scientists from Argonne, Germany, Russia and Belgium fashioned a thin film of titanium nitride, which they then chilled to near absolute zero.
When they tried to pass a current through the material, the researchers noticed that its resistance suddenly increased by a factor of 100,000 once the temperature dropped below a certain threshold.
The same sudden change also occurred when the researchers decreased the external magnetic field.
According to Vinokur, titanium nitride films as well as films prepared from some other materials can be either superconductors or insulators depending on the thickness of the film.
"If you take the film which is just on the insulating side of the transition and decrease the temperature or magnetic field, then the film all of a sudden becomes a superinsulator," he said.
Like superconductors, which have applications in many different areas of physics, from accelerators to magnetic levitation (maglev) trains to MRI machines, superinsulators could eventually find their way into a number of products, including circuits, sensors and battery shields.
If, for example, a battery is left exposed to the air, the charge will eventually drain from it in a matter of days or weeks because the air is not a perfect insulator, according to Vinokur.
"If you pass a current through a superconductor, then it will carry the current forever. Conversely, if you have a superinsulator, then it will hold a charge forever," said Vinokur.
Additionally, scientists could eventually form superinsulators that would encapsulate superconducting wires, creating an optimally efficient electrical pathway with almost no energy lost as heat.
A miniature version of these superinsulated superconducting wires could find their way into more efficient electrical circuits as well.