The Greatest Break-through in Physics Ever Made —or a Hoax? // Some new scientific papers are met with both plaudits and skepticism

Imagine a world in which electricity was plentifully available and cheaper than water, where we all traveled by super-fast levitating trains, and complex electronic equipment was not only cheap but never overheated. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Now imagine that a handful of obscure scientists in South Korea are claiming to have figured out how to do all that. You might naturally be a little suspicious.
In a pair of new scientific papers, several South Korean researchers are touting a discovery that “will be a brand-new historical event that opens a new era for humankind.” That’s a pretty big claim—and it would truly change the way we live if it’s legitimate. Many scientists are extremely skeptical, though, as the field has seen disappointments in the past. Which is why other scientists are now racing to see if they can duplicate the results in their own experiments.

What are these South Korean scientists claiming?
Superconductors are a special kind of material where electrical resistance vanishes, and which throws out magnetic fields. They are widely useful, including in the production of powerful magnets and in reducing the amount of energy that is lost as it moves through circuits.
These scientists are claiming to have found a substance that is a superconductor at room temperature and at normal atmospheric pressure. This substance, which they are calling LK-99, is made from the minerals lead, apatite and copper. (Actually, they baked lanarkite and copper phosphide together, but that’s getting a little technical.) LK-99 would be very cheap to manufacture, and the authors give a clear description of how they created it. In the video that was released, they show the substance levitating above a magnet, which is what should happen when a superconductor is placed above a magnet.
These papers have been uploaded to an online preprint archive, where new research can be shared before it is peer reviewed. This means that the results have yet to be verified, although several teams are now attempting to do just that.

What on earth is a superconductor?


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