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(LEAD) (News Focus) Korean researchers' claim over superconductor creation draws global attention

17:16 August 03, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES with new info in paras 14-15)
By Kim Boram

SEOUL, Aug. 3 (Yonhap) -- A group of South Korean researchers' claim of a breakthrough of a potential room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor is stirring up controversy over whether their discovery is real or not amid global interest.

Researchers from the Seoul-based Quantum Energy Research Centre Inc., including Lee Suk-bae, Kim Hyun-tak and Kwon Young-wan, posted two papers on the online preprint repository, arXiv, on July 22, claiming they have developed a room-temperature superconductor.

Scientific papers self-archived on arXiv are not peer-reviewed or academically verified.

This image, captured from a YouTube video by professor Kim Hyun-tak, shows a superconductor. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Superconductors are one of the most sought-after materials by science and technology researchers, through which electricity can move without encountering any resistance.

The creation of a room-temperature semiconductor would significantly reduce the energy costs of electronics, with a wide variety of everyday applications, from MRI machines to superfast maglev trains.

But their use is highly limited because superconductivity can typically only be achieved at very cold temperatures or high pressures.

Scientists are trying to develop superconductors that work at higher temperatures and lower pressures, which would revolutionize energy transport and storage without the loss of energy.

This image shows part of a paper that researchers at Quantum Energy Research Centre Inc. posted on arXiv. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In the two papers, the South Korean researchers claimed they have created a material, dubbed LK-99, which functions as a superconductor at ambient pressure and temperatures below 400 K, or 127 C.

Their announcement was widely shared by the scientific community, both at home and abroad, and went viral on social media platforms the following week.

But the academic community has remained skeptical about the validity of LK-99, a well-above room-temperature superconducting material at ambient pressure, as some foreign researchers have failed to create perfectly verified superconductors that have passed scientific scrutiny.

In a report released July 27, the American peer-reviewed academic journal Science said the Korean research team's papers "are short on detail and have left many physicists skeptical."

It said researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have started to test the two papers' claims, and they will release the test results within a week.

In Korea, the Korean Society of Superconductivity and Cryogenics also took action, forming a verification committee on Wednesday to scientifically assess the experiment on the room-temperature superconductor papers.

The Society said Thursday it has concluded that LK-99 is not a superconductor as the material presents no negative resistance, called Meissner effect. A superconducting material has zero electrical resistance and actively excludes magnetic fields from its interior.

"We can't say the material shows the exact Meissner effect (based on an experiment in the paper)," an official from the institute told Yonhap News Agency, adding the authors have refused to submit a sample for its test.

One of the papers' authors, however, again claimed that LK-99 is a superconductor.

"This can only be explained by the phenomenon of superconductivity," Kim Hyun-tak, who studies at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, said in a separate email interview with Yonhap News Agency on Thursday. "I think the validation is already done, regarding data and others."

At the same time, the study has caused a spike in Korean technology stocks over the past week.

On Wednesday alone, metal-processing firms like Seowon Co., Sunam Co., Power Logics and Shinsung Delta Tech Co. jumped by their 30 percent daily limits on the Seoul bourses, far outperforming the main KOSPI's 1.9 percent drop amid the U.S. credit rating downgrade.



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