EVANSTON, Ill. --- A research team led by a Northwestern University physicist has identified a high-temperature superconductor -- Bi-2212, a compound containing bismuth -- as a material that might be suitable for the new wires needed to one day build the most powerful superconducting magnet in the world, a 30 Tesla magnet.
The material currently used in magnetic resonance (MR) imaging machines in both hospitals and research laboratories -- a low-temperature superconducting alloy of the metallic element niobium -- has been pushed almost as far as it can go, to around 21 Tesla. (Tesla is used to define the intensity of the magnetic field.) There are no superconducting magnet wires currently available that can generate 30 Tesla.
"A new materials technology -- such as a technology based on high-temperature superconductivity -- is required to make the huge leap from 21 Tesla to 30 Tesla," said William P. Halperin, John Evans Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, who led the team. "We have shown that Bi-2212 could be operated at the same temperature as is presently the case for magnets made with niobium -- 4 degrees Kelvin -- and also achieve the stable state necessary for a 30 Tesla magnet."
The findings will be published online Feb. 11 by the journal Nature Physics.
"We are exploring nature's limitations, and our discovery has basic implications for the study of superconductors and for applications to magnetic resonance imaging," said Halperin. "The dream would be to have powerful magnets that don't require helium for cooling. Some day new materials might be discovered where this restriction is lifted, but it isn't possible at the present time."
A superconductor, when cooled to its appropriate temperature, conducts electricity without any resistance. Superconductivity first appears in Bi-2212 at a high temperature of 90 degrees Kelvin, but Halperin and his c
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