What Is a Superconductor?
A superconductor is an element or substance that conducts electrical current with no resistanceand repels magnetic fields. A superconductor relies on many variables, such as temperature, toreach its superconductive state.
The first discovery of a superconductor was mercury in 1911 by Dutch physicistHeike Kamerlingh Onnes. He was working with liquid helium, but noticed thatthe low temperatures he was working with abruptly and drastically reduced theelectrical resistance of a mercury filament. In 1933, German physicist WaltherMeissner discovered a special property of superconductors that prevents magneticfields from entering the interior, but mirror the magnetic field on the surface. Thisresults in the ability of superconductors to levitate magnets.
While many properties of superconductors rely specifically on what the substanceor element is, all superconductors have zero electrical resistance with low electriccurrents. This state of zero resistance is normally attained by lowering thetemperature of the substance below a certain point known as the criticaltemperature. Most substances' critical temperatures are relatively close to absolutezero ('273.15 degrees Celsius), but a group of newer, higher-temperaturesuperconductors have been discovered and are still undergoing research. Allsuperconductors discovered to date are solids.
The most common way to classify superconductors is by dividing them accordingto their physical properties into two classes:
Type I and Type II. Type I superconductors are classified as metals or metalloidswith critical temperatures very close to absolute zero. They are able to conductelectricity at room temperature and make a very rapid transition to thesuperconductive state and repel magnetic fields completely. There are 30materials in the Type I category. Type II superconductors make a gradual shiftinto the superconducting state and often attain this property at much highertemperatures and magnetic fields than Type I. Type II superconductors are usuallymade of metal alloys or complex oxide ceramics. Because they can function athigher temperatures, Type II superconductors are more readily applied totechnology than Type I.