Superconductors: What They Have to Offer
Floating computers and faster trains. Wait, no. Faster computers and yes faster trains, but more importantly, trains that float. This is what superconductors make possible.
What are superconductors?
Let’s start with what a superconductor is because I for one wasn’t sure at first. It’s a special material that conducts electricity, and more importantly, it conducts it without resistance. What does that mean? It means that the electrons (the tiny particles that give things their electrical charge) flow easily through the material. It takes a lot of physics to fully understand how this works, but all we need to know is that it can only happen at very low temperatures. And and and, there is no heat production! The reason is because there is no resistance in superconductors. Isn’t that awesome! It opens up a whole world of possibilities and has so many applications.
What are some of their applications?
Apart from transporting, and of course using electricity, superconductors have multiple uses. Today we’re interested in their magnetic applications. The most common use for superconductors is in body scanners. Superconducting magnets make a powerful magnetic field which then causes atoms in a patient’s body to give off radio waves. While the scanner is spinning around, it picks up the waves and creates an image of what’s going on inside. This is an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
One of the most well known uses for superconductors is in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. And although most of us don’t really care about what’s happening in the world of physics, we do care about maglev trains. Magnetic levitation to be precise. It’s not easy to make a train float, let alone travel at high speeds, and so far it’s only been done in Japan, South Korea, and China.
Let’s talk about the one in Japan. They developed their own special superconducting magnets to make a high-speed train. So you’ve got a strong magnetic force that continues as long as there is electricity flowing through it. The train reaches speeds of 580 km/h and lifts about 10 cm into the air. Cool stuff! Literally. Not only that, but in the event of an earthquake, the train can operate safely until it can be brought to a stop.
The Future of Superconductors
There is so much that we don’t know about superconductors. New applications are being thought of and developed almost every day. It’s possible that in the future it will be used in power transmissions which will reduce energy costs around the world and help the environment by reducing pollution and the production of greenhouse gases. Also, just like the Shinkansen Train in Japan, the future could be filled with maglev trains that use superconductivity to hover above the tracks. We could get to Chiang Mai and Back in the same day. The applications are endless and we may be soon living in a futuristic utopia. Powerful and unique, superconductors have the potential to revolutionize electrical transmission, physics, and even transportation.
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