Recently, Dutch researchers detailed their innovation. They succeeded where other engineers had failed in the 1970s by creating a superconducting computer. For scientists, this innovation opens the way to computers 300 to 400 times faster than those that exist today.
A century-old problem
In their press release of April 27, 2022, researchers at Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) recall the story of Kamerlingh Onnes (1853-1926). In 1911, this Dutch physicist discovered the phenomenon of superconductivity. His work has made it possible to understand that certain materials that are cooled to a temperature close to absolute zero can conduct electricity very quickly without loss of energy.
Superconductivity could have completely revolutionized electronics. Only, here, when the electrons circulate in a wire in a free way, to restrict or to block their movements turns out to be very difficult. The only way to do this would be to change the magnetic field. Thus, the electrons would be forced to go one way or the other. However, one of the fundamental principles of modern electronics is that electricity should only flow one way.
In the 1970s, engineers from IBM attempted to build a superconducting computer. Unfortunately, this project failed. Indeed, the researchers indicated that they were unable to succeed in the absence of a one-way superconductor.
An innovation for big changes
The team from the Delft University of Technology claims to have succeeded where the experts at IBM failed. His work detailed in the journal Nature refers to a “Josephson junction” that allowed electrons to be directed. According to the researchers, it is a “sandwich of superconductors” with a non-superconducting barrier in the middle. This kind of device is not new in itself, but had never really made it possible to orient electrons. The scientists indicate that their innovation is based on Nb3Br8, a material they developed especially for the occasion. This material therefore embodies the famous non-superconducting barrier, the thickness of which is only a few layers of atoms.
Finally, this discovery is not a revolution in itself, but could bring great changes to the world of electronics. Researchers estimate that if it becomes possible to produce computers embedding this technology, they will be 300 to 400 faster than those we use today. This would then sign the shelving of semiconductors in favor of superconductors.