An element, inter-metallic alloy, or compound that will conduct electricity without resistance below a certain temperature. Resistance is undesirable because it produces losses in the energy flowing through the material. Once set is motion, electrical current will flow forever in a closed loop of superconducting material – making it the closest thing to perpetual motion in nature. Scientist refer to superconductivity as a “microscopic quantum phenomenon”.


Superconductors, materials that have no resistance to the flow of
electricity, are one of the last great frontiers of scientific discovery. Not only have the limits of superconductivity not yet been reached, but the theories that explain superconductor behavior seem to be constantly under review. In 1911 superconductivity was first observed in mercury by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes of Leiden University (shown). When he cooled it to the temperature of liquid helium, 4 °Kelvin (-452F, -269C), its resistance suddenly disappeared. The Kelvin scale represents an "absolute" scale of temperature. Thus, it was necessary to come within 4 degrees of the coldest temperature that is theoretically attainable to witness the phenomenon of superconductivity. Later, in 1913, he won a Nobel Prize in physics for his research in this area. Next great milestone in understanding how matter behaves at extreme cold temperatures occurred in 1933. German researchers Walther Meissner (above) and Robert Ochsenfeld discovered that a superconducting material will repel a magnetic field (below graphic). A magnet moving by a conductor induces currents in the conductor. This is the principle on which the electric generator operates. But, in a superconductor the induced currents exactly mirror the field that would have otherwise penetrated the superconducting material causing the magnet to be repulsed. This phenomenon is known as strong diamagnetism and is today often referred to as the "Meissner effect" (an Walther Meissner eponym). The Meissner effect is so strong that a magnet can actually be levitated over a superconductive material.