For some, feeling the burn is something that comes from a long session of exercise, for others it comes from a long session of Netflix with a laptop doing its best to burn a hole in their pyjamas. During long periods of use our laptops can get pretty warm; this is because there are are a lot of powerful components doing a lot of hard work in a small space creating electrical resistance which converts waste energy into heat. Though you might not mind this heat if you’re feeling a little chilly it’s not great for the lifespan of your device. MIT postdoc Cui-Zu Chang and a team of scientists are working to create devices that have little to no resistance to the flow of electricity in the hopes that it will reduce heat production, making our electronics more energy efficient, longer lasting, and more powerful.
For the past few years researchers have been looking into the use of special materials called topological insulators to achieve this. Topological insulators are extremely thin materials which allow electrons to flow freely on their surface but not through their bulk. Chang has made a breakthrough in the research by adding vanadium to their material, replacing the chromium they had been using, which allowed them to produce atomically thin layers of magnetic topological insulators.
Vanadium proved to be much more effective than chromium, but they found that it still offered very slight resistance to the flow of electrons. Now, they’ve had a further breakthrough, finally achieving the zero resistance they’d be hoping for. The only catch is that to achieve this zero resistance they had to perform the experiment at 0.025 kelvins which is a temperature so low it would make a White Walker want to pull on a coat.
Now that the team have established zero resistance is possible, their next step is making it happen at higher temperatures, eventually moving to room temperature, so that the technology can be applied to the devices we use every day, something they think is possible:
“While presently it can only be realized at very low temperatures, there are indications that this can be raised… If you can realize this effect at room temperature, it will significantly change our life.”
We hope the team achieve another breakthrough soon but in the meantime the only thing we can really do is continue to make sure our laptop vents are clean and not suffocating under the piles of duvets we wrap around ourselves during our cosy nights in with the internet.