Addictive Physics: Superconductivity Can Be Induced By Red Wine

Here’s another excuse you might find handy (or, maybe, not) for buying that bottle of red wine you always wanted: to do physics. Yes, that’s right, physics. Apparently, red wine can lead to better superconducting properties in certain alloys. This find was reported by a team of researchers based in Japan.

Superconductivity is a phenomenon exhibited by certain substances (pure metals or synthesized alloys) that display zero resistance to the flow of electric current. For example, if you cool mercury to 4.2 Kelvin (which is about minus 269 Celsius), it shows an abrupt decrease of electrical resistance. The resistance, in fact, suddenly goes to a value very close to zero.

Superconductivity sets at a critical temperature, Tc, at which the resistivity goes down to zero.

If a current is induced in the superconductor, it will be maintained without any supporting voltage for a very long, practically infinite, time. In case of normal conductors, like copper at room temperature, the current dies out, because of loss of energy by heating due to the resistance of the material. Interestingly, this property can be used to levitate magnets by exploting the so-called Meissner Effect. Watch the amazing video.

The focus of material sciences in recent times has been to find substances which show superconducting properties at higher temperatures. Such materials are called High Temperature Superconductors’ (HTc Superconductors). If a material is found such that it is superconducting at room temperatures, it will lead to huge leaps in electrical transport efficiency.  A few such materials are known, giving superconductivity at 30 K or -243 0C (LaBaCuO, for the science buffs) or at 92 K (YBaCuO). (The black slab in the above video is YBaCuO cooled by liquid nitrogen.)

Generally, bulk superconductivity is shown in materials after being treated appropriately. In a substance called Iron-Tellurium Sulphide (FeTe1-xSx), bulk superconductivity can be induced at quite high temperatures by immersion in water-ethanol mixture and oxygen annealing. (If the formulas bother you too much, just ignore them. These are not integral to the story.) The Japanese research team has discovered that superconductivity can be induced by heating the material in red-wine at 70 0C for 24 hours, after which it becomes superconducting at 9.9 K. More importantly, the quality of superconductor produced is high. (For science buffs, the shielding volume fraction, which is a measure of how good the superconductor is, is highest for FeTe0.8S0.2 boiled with red wine.)

The reason for this induction of superconductivity is not known.

The next time you see that expensive bottle of red wine, think superconductors’.  Here’s another bottle of champagne, err, wine in celebration of this discovery.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.