Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click on 'Find out more' to see our Cookie statement.

Oxfordshire’s international strength in applied superconductivity technology has been boosted by a major new Oxford University research centre, the Centre for Applied Superconductivity. Superconductors are proving themselves vital for powerful new technologies in healthcare, quantum computing and many other fields.

A superconducting magnet
Image credit Stephen Blundell and Andrew Boothroyd

The phenomenon of superconductivity was first discovered in solid mercury at liquid helium temperatures over a hundred years ago. When cooled below a critical temperature, close to absolute zero, mercury superconductor exhibits a remarkable property: an electrical current passed through it shows no resistance at all. Over the last century, it has been found that a larger range of materials can also exist in this unique state of matter.

Even materials such as metals that are good conductors of electricity normally show resistance to electrical currents, which results in electrical energy being wasted as heat. But superconductors can carry current without any dissipation, and so they have enormous potential for improving electrical efficiency, especially where equipment requires large amounts of power. Superconductors are already used in applications such as MRI scanners and particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider. One stumbling block, however, is that most existing superconducting materials only work at extremely low temperatures. This requires the use of expensive cryogenic liquids to achieve the necessary cooling.

Oxford’s new Centre for Applied Superconductivity (CfAS) aims to provide a ‘joined up’ approach to problems in superconductivity, linking together fundamental physics research, materials discovery and development, and industry. It is a collaborative effort between local companies and Oxford University’s Departments of Materials and Physics. Funding has been provided through the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) and has led to the creation of new laboratories within both University departments.

The Centre has already established research projects with leading local companies in the sector, including Siemens Magnet Technology and Tokamak Energy, and been consulted by international research organisations including CERN. Superconducting circuits will also play a big role in the development of new quantum technologies. Achieving this requires a sustained effort to understand the fundamental nature of superconductivity. To do this, researchers are using high magnetic field facilities in Oxford and around the world which are capable of generating fields a million times stronger than the Earth’s. This enables them to look inside the superconducting state and study its electronic structure. Some newly-discovered superconductors can function at unusually high temperatures, the highest being about -70°C. This is still colder than the average winter temperature in Antarctica, however, so the ultimate goal is to predict and discover superconductors that work at room temperature.

Described by Dr David Kingham, Chief Executive of Tokamak Energy, as ‘a vital local resource that enables us to tackle such a huge challenge of global importance’, CfAS provides world-leading problem solving expertise for industry and training for new generations of technicians and scientists as well as cutting-edge research into new superconducting products and processes.

Similar stories

7 attributes for a successful Net Zero

A new Nature Climate Change paper highlights the urgency of emission reductions and emphasises the need for social and environmental integrity. There are clear risks of getting net zero wrong. If interpreted right and governed well, net zero can be an effective frame of reference for climate action.

Professor Myles Allen appointed CBE

Congratulations to Professor Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science in the Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Physics, who has been appointed CBE in the New Year's Honours 2022 for services to climate change attribution, prediction and net zero.

Safer carbon capture and storage

Depleted oil fields are one of the targets for carbon dioxide burial and related technology development. New research from the Department of Earth Sciences, published in Nature, shows that subsurface microbial activity may make this type of carbon burial target more complex than originally thought.

New approach to predicting battery failure could help maintain electricity for millions around the world

The new method of predicting battery failure is 15 – 20% more accurate than current approaches.

New resistance-busting antibiotic combination could extend the use of ‘last-resort’ antibiotics

Scientists have discovered a new potential treatment that has the ability to reverse antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause conditions such as sepsis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections.