Korean scientists claim a major breakthrough

Korean scientists claim to have developed the world’s first superconductor capable of working at room temperature and pressure. If true, this is big.

What’s a superconductor? It’s a material capable of conducting electricity without resistance. We only know how to make them work at ultralow temperatures or ultrahigh-pressure, severely limiting their use. Until now?

Sukbae Lee and Ji-Hoon Kim have developed a material with lead, oxygen, sulphur, and phosphorus called LK-99 (for ‘Lee’, ‘Kim’ and ‘1999’ when they first made it). They’ve released their findings, claiming it’s a superconductor at room temperature and pressure, heralding “a new era for humankind”.

So scientists are racing to replicate their results: early tests in India and China have dashed hopes, while another in China has spurred them.

Why the excitement? If LK-99 is the real deal, it could revolutionise anything that uses electricity or magnets, including the:

  • ⚡ energy sector (sending more green energy over longer distances)
  • 🩺 medical sector (cheaper, more powerful devices)
  • 🚄 transport sector (cheaper, more practical maglev trains), and
  • 💻 tech sector (cheaper, more powerful quantum devices).

Intrigue’s take: But (always the but), big claims merit scrutiny, and there are real questions here around the original methods and rigour. Plus, there are other theories to explain LK-99’s properties (it could just be diamagnetic).

So there’s a fair bit of scepticism building.

But while we await further testing, we can’t help but reflect on the way major finds like this can really shape our world: oil, nuclear, space, chips, critical minerals, AI… ambient superconductors? This is a heck of a time to be alive.

Also worth noting:

  • The Korean Society of Superconductivity and Cryogenics has organised a committee to verify the LK-99 findings, which haven’t been peer-reviewed.
  • Stocks seen as having relevance to LK-99 initially surged in Korea and elsewhere, before tanking today (Friday) as LK-99 doubts grew.
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