Superconductor Sleuths Take Another Look At Metals

By the time high-temperature ceramic superconductors were discovered in 1986, scientists had lost interest in metallic ones, which superconduct only at extremely low temperatures. But metallic superconductors retain one important advantage: They're less brittle than ceramics, so they can be fashioned more easily into materials such as superconducting wires. Researchers at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., and at the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Bombay, India, are reopening the case for metals. When Tata Institute researchers reported last summer that they had detected superconductivity in a compound of nickel, boron, and yttrium, Bell Labs materials scientist Robert J. Cava tried to reproduce the results. He finally succeeded late last year, when a technician inadvertently contaminated the compound with carbon.

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