Interviewed by Joelle Seligson
This interview appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.
Picture a steaming air hockey puck spinning in a circle while floating in midair. This strange vision resembles a phenomenon demonstrated by Tel Aviv University’s Superconductivity Group at the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore last October. The “floating puck” was in fact a crystal wafer coated with a thin layer of ceramic material and cooled to -301˚ F (-185˚ C). At that point it becomes a superconductor, conducting electricity without resistance or energy loss—unlike the copper wires often used in electrical devices, which inefficiently cast off some electricity as it flows through.
Although superconductivity was discovered a century ago by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, the researchers at Tel Aviv University were the first to create a thin superconductor using high-quality materials. They also discovered that the improved features of this new applied superconductor enabled it to levitate.
The result, called quantum levitation, looks like a scene in a futuristic film, perhaps explaining why a video of the demonstration went viral, earning 5 million views within a week. Tel Aviv University physicist Boaz Almog, who is heard explaining the phenomenon in the video, talked with Dimensions about superconductivity’s past, present, and future.
Read the full transcript, or listen to the podcast.
About the image: Members of Tel Aviv University’s Superconductivity Group (from left to right: Guy Deutscher, Barak Deutscher, Mishael Azoulay, and Boaz Almog) demonstrate quantum levitation. Photo courtesy Boaz Almog