Delft scientists have made a superconducting version of an important electronic component. Will it, as the research leader claims, lead to computers that run hundreds of times faster than current machines?
We like to have used electronics superconductivity: The phenomenon of lack of electrical resistance of some materials at low temperatures. This will allow you to make circuits faster and more economical, as expected.
It is a shame that we do not have a superconducting variant of a dual vacume: a component that conducts current well in one direction, but not in the other. As early as the 1970s, IBM realized that this deficiency was the bottleneck on the road to a superconducting computer.
Delft researchers have now succeeded in making such a superconducting diode. An important step toward the computer revolution – or is it too much to say?
Not very practical
The basis of the superconducting diode is the so-called Josephson junction. This is basically a sandwich with two superconductors on the outside and one that isn’t superconducting in between.
Normally, this Josephson junction would not operate as a diode, but previous researchers succeeded in making one. The problem with this was that magnetic fields always had to be used. This makes such a diode very impractical, as research leader Mazhar Ali explains in a press release† “Nanometer-scale magnetic fields are very difficult to control and limit.”
Few thick atoms
Ali and his colleagues have now succeeded in doing the same without magnetic fields. They have, they write in the scientific journal temper natureDeveloped the Josephson Field-Free Diode.
The material between superconductors is critical. This is not an “ordinary” substance, but a substance called a quantum substance: a compound of niobium and bromine with the chemical formula Nb3Brother8† This material has a two-dimensional structure, says Ali, just like Graphene is a strange material† This allowed the researchers to cover their sandwiches with a layer of toppings no more than a few atoms thick. And with this, the whole switched to the diode function.
Even at high temperatures?
As for the applications, Ali says: “Technology that was previously only possible with semiconductors can now be made possible with the help of this building block with superconductors.” This also includes computers that are three to four hundred times faster than the computers we use today, he continues.
Now superconductors only work at low temperatures. For example, the superconductor that Ali used for the diode acquires zero resistance only at temperatures below -266.55 ° C. As a next step, the Delft researchers want to see if they can repeat the same trick with materials that become superconducting at higher temperatures.
But for now you’re still talking about chips that operate at around -200°C. So you will soon find them on a large scale Server farms and in super computers, then on your home computer. But Ali does not see that as a major objection. “All intensive calculations are now done in centralized facilities,” he says. “The existing infrastructure can be adapted to electronics based on superconducting diodes without undue costs.”
This seems like a huge step towards much better computers. Is this too? not according to Bram NotaUniversity Professor at the University of Twente and Nota key creator† Says: “It’s pretty basic research, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the promises are very speculative and not based on how computers work.”
“You can’t build computers with binaries,” Nauta continues. “In a computer, you need an amplifying element with which you can ‘strengthen’ the ones and zeros when they sink. You also have to be able to turn one into zero. This is not possible with diodes. Moreover, cooling the superconductor takes a huge amount of power. Much more than you save due to the low losses of the “bare” superconductor.
In short: Nice work, but the picture of the future that Ali paints may be a little rosy.
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