Bringing Power to the People – The Coming Age of Superconductivity

Abstract: Superconductivity, that mystical property of many metals to transport electricity without loss when cooled near absolute zero, ranks certainly within the "top ten" scientific achievements of 20th Century physics, alongside such other accomplishments as semiconductor devices and lasers. The seeds of its discovery and subsequent development have borne societal fruit in the form of extremely powerful electromagnets, ultrasensitive detectors of weak magnetic fields, and record-fast digital computer switches. Perhaps best known to the general public is the central role of superconducting coils in MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), today the central diagnostic tool in many branches of medicine. The ability of superconducting junction devices ("SQUIDS" – superconducting quantum interference devices) to measure extremely small magnetic fields is now enabling other medical diagnostic techniques such as the detection of magnetic activity within the heart and brain and their correlation with disease.

However, until the mid-1980s, the necessity for a complex and expensive refrigeration infrastructure remained a "definite downer," standing in the way of extending the promise of superconductivity more broadly, especially to electric power and compact electronic devices. In 1986, materials were discovered which were superconducting at temperatures reachable by cooling in liquid air, a common and widely used industrial agent. These new materials, the so-called "layered copper oxide perovskites," are ceramics, not ductile metals, and a decade of intensive research has been devoted to processing them into practical wire and tapes. This work has now progressed sufficiently to allow construction and testing of prototype power cables, transformers, motors and generators. In parallel to these efforts, enormous advances have been achieved in thin film fabrication of these ceramics into passive superconducting rf filters which promise to greatly accelerate the global deployment of personal cellular communication technology. Moreover, the advent of high temperature superconductivity has resulted in a renaissance of the field of low temperature superconductivity leading to exciting advances in tools to study the frontiers of many fields of science – powerful magnets to increase the power of those microscopes of the universe called hadron colliders, a broad range of medical magnetotomography techniques applied to non-invasive diagnosis of human pathologies – and to enable applications such as maglev transportation and petaflop computation.

In this talk, we'll give the audience a brief "Superconductivity 101" introduction to its history and basic physics, and provide a hitchhiker's guide on the highway to these emerging applications arising with the dawn of the new century.

P. Grant

Paul M. Grant
Science Fellow
Strategic Science and Technology

Dr. Grant is responsible for the reconnaissance and assessment of developments in frontier science and technology with potential impact on the global energy enterprise. His task includes the communication of his findings and insight to EPRI's executive management, staff and customers. Dr. Grant's work provides the context for EPRI's Strategic Science and Technology program, a $38 million annual research effort in which he is also an active participant.

Prior to joining EPRI in 1993, Dr. Grant had an extensive career with the IBM Corporation where he performed basic investigations on the fundamental science of exotic superconductors and conductors and magnetic materials. He participated in the discovery of the family of high temperature superconductors in the mid-1980s. He is also one of the pioneers of the application of computers and computational methods to experimental and theoretical condensed matter physics. In addition, Dr. Grant served in IBM management as well as on several executive staff assignments assessing computer storage, printing and display technologies

He has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He holds four patents and co-authored twelve patent publications. His career with IBM included a two-year sabbatical as a Professor at the Materials Research Institute of the National University of Mexico, during which he received the Cátedra Patrimonial de Excelencia, Nivel II, the highest academic fellowship honor awarded visitors by the Mexican government. He presently serves on the materials science advisory boards of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Houston.

Dr. Grant holds the Ph.D. and A.M. degrees in Applied Physics from Harvard University and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (summa cum laude) from Clarkson University. He plays a leadership role in the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society to promote international cooperation in science, advance public understanding of scientific issues, and improve the quality of high school physics education. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Dr. Grant is frequently sought out by the media for commentary on developments in superconductivity. He has been quoted in leading newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times of London and the major wire services, as well as weekly periodicals, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Business Week, US News & World Report and The Economist serving as examples. He writes regularly for the News and Views section of the respected science journal Nature. In 1994 he was awarded the Nature-sponsored Scientist as Science Writer Prize. He has been interviewed on camera by the major television news networks, and has appeared on several TV specials focused on superconductivity produced by PBS Nova, BBC Horizon, Beyond 2000 and the US Information Agency.

Click on each of the four thumbnails below for a full-size map image.
SF Area
SF Bay Area
LBL map
LBL map
24-13 map
From highway 24 or 13, take the Berkeley/Tunnel Road/13 exit. Tunnel Road becomes Ashby past the Claremont Hotel. Turn right at the traffic light at College Ave (at the Wells Fargo Bank). Turn right at the traffic light at Durant (one-way street located one block before College Ave ends at the UC campus). At the end of Durant (one block), turn left onto Piedmont, which becomes Gayley Road. Turn right at the traffic light at Hearst at the northeast corner of the campus. Hearst becomes Cyclotron Road. At the LBL guard station the guard can give you instructions to Building 2, Room 100B.

Alternative route from 24-13 (Green line on map; shorter, but through residential neighborhood): On Ashby, turn right at Claremont Ave. (at gas station; second traffic light after main entrance to Claremont Hotel). Immediately bear left around the "island", with the restaurant on it. You will find yourself driving through a wrought iron and brick gateway if you have performed this maneuver properly. Proceed to the end of the street to a forced left turn onto Derby at the UC-Clark Kerr campus. Turn right at Warring at the southwest corner of the campus. After two blocks, follow the road as it bears to the left to join Piedmont Ave at the traffic light (stay in the right lane on Piedmont to avoid a forced left turn at Haste). Continue along Piedmont until it becomes Gayley Road and proceed as described in the previous paragraph.