Diamond tips apply pressure to a superalloy

Scientists used diamond tips to apply enormous pressure to a superconducting alloy. Credit: Max Alexander/SPL

Physics

Super-squeezing can’t crush this superconductor’s powers

Material shrugs off pressures similar to those at Earth’s core.

An exotic alloy conducts electricity when subjected to extreme pressures that would be expected to crush the material’s structure and destroy its electrical properties.

The alloy is a superconductor, a material that offers no resistance to the passage of an electrical current. Such materials are valuable for fabricating specialized magnets and other technology. But extreme pressures distort their atomic arrangements, disrupting their ability to carry current.

Liling Sun at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Robert Cava at Princeton University in New Jersey and their colleagues subjected samples of the alloy to pressures of up to 190 gigapascals — nearly 2 million times the atmospheric pressure at sea level — about the level in Earth’s outer core. The alloy’s superconductivity persisted. That contradicts scientists’ understanding of how such materials should behave, providing a challenge to superconducting theory, the authors say.