What is LK-99? What we know so far about the potential superconductor

LK-99 could change the world. Or this could be the latest case of much internet ado about nothing.

Scientific claims about the material – that it is a potential superconductor that works at room temperature and room pressure – have generated a lot of excitement on Hacker News, X, Reddit and other geeky corners of the world in line.

If you’re looking to catch up on what could be the biggest scientific breakthrough of the past 75 years – or a hoax – here’s a primer on why it matters and where things stand.

What is LK-99?

A paper by South Korean scientists claimed to synthesize a superconducting material that worked at room temperature. This was dubbed LK-99 (after the paper’s authors, Sukbae Lee and Ji-Hoon Kim, who have been quietly working on it since 1999). The material is made up of a combination of lead, phosphorus and copper.

The researchers say the resulting material is a superconductor, based on how it reacts to exposure to magnetic fields.

Why should I care about LK-99?

If LK-99 is truly a room temperature superconductor, it could open up a new world for electronics and could also have a positive impact on the climate crisis. Electricity could be conducted without resistance, greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making long-distance transmission of solar or wind power much more viable.

It could also spawn sci-fi-like devices like a desktop quantum computer and levitating trains. In short, a true room-temperature superconductor could revolutionize the world of electronics and usher in a new era of innovation.

Has LK-99 been scientifically verified?

Not yet. The articles have not been peer reviewed, which automatically makes scientists skeptical. That said, many researchers and labs have used the articles in an attempt to replicate the results in their own labs.

On Tuesday, a team in China claimed to have synthesized the material, prompting another spike in excitement, but again, these results have not been peer-reviewed. And Twitter user Andrew McCalip, who builds space capsules as part of his day job, has turned a lot of heads with his attempts to replicate the results live on social media. His calendar currently shows he will be closer to knowing the results on Friday. He warned subscribers to temper their expectations, however, writing, “Remember, this first attempt PROBABLY WILL NOT WORK. . . . The very first step in replication is to show that the correct shape/composition material is created when the specific recipe is run.

Physicists also warn against relying too heavily on these live-streamed attempts to replicate the material.

“One of my tangential takeaways from this LK-99 SC claim is that the general public seems oddly thrilled with the ‘ease’ of 4-day, multi-step, small-batch solid-state synthesis. Some of you haven’t had blisters from overusing your pestle and it shows. tweeted Jennifer Fowliecondensed matter physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Why are people skeptical about LK-99?

The old axiom that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is” comes to mind. Room temperature superconductors have been one of the most sought after goals of science for decades. So even claiming to have discovered it is cause for skepticism, especially without peer review, and especially when the authors of the paper are not well known in the field.

Specifically, however, the articles lack detail, and the researchers did not respond to requests for comment from many scientific publications. The data was called “sloppy,” and Michael Normal, a theorist at Argonne National Laboratory, said Science magazine: “They present themselves as true amateurs. They don’t know much about superconductivity and the way they presented some of the data is shady.

Even if LK-99 turns out to be the real breakthrough everyone’s been hoping for, Sidney Perkowitz, professor emeritus of physics at Emory University, says it’s likely to be years before there are use cases. commercial.

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