2007 – A Year of Superconducting Breakthroughs?
By Jim Bray
Remember superconductivity? It's far more than a buzzword: it's a way to reduce electrical resistance to virtually nothing, increasing efficiency dramatically. If – or when – superconducting becomes economical and practical for the mainstream, it would allow for huge advances, and/or huge cost savings, in a variety of disciplines.
But it's been a tough row to hoe since superconductivity was first discovered back in the early 20th century. To exploit it generally requires super cold temperatures and, so far, this has kept superconductivity out of everyday conversation.
Heck, the first time I heard the term superconductor, I thought they were talking about Leonard Bernstein! So it's understandable if most people don't know the term.
Superconducting may be poised for some major breakthroughs, however. Dr. Elie K. Track, senior partner at HYPRES (which calls itself a leading developer of superconducting microelectronics technology) thinks 2007 is going to create some pretty spectacular news in technologies that use superconducting materials.
Track's number one prediction is for an advanced, low-cost MRI machine that should make it easier and cheaper to screen for medical conditions such as breast cancer and brain tumors, while also allowing the MRI machine to work in a more open environment - something claustrophobic patients may appreciate.
He also envisions ultra high speed Internet switches that will be able to carry much denser and more complex Internet traffic, opening up another few lanes on the information superhighway. Dr. Track says this would involve the processing of optical signals, leading to routers capable of handling 100 Terrabytes per second of data.
Of course, with my luck, I'd get one of these super fast routers and then get the first speeding ticket on the information highway….
Another potential breakthrough is in high-capacity power lines that could begin using cables made from superconducting materials to carry electricity affordably to areas that currently don't have a power infrastructure. These cables, supposedly capable of carrying up to five times more current than traditional power lines of the same size, have already been demonstrated; Dr. Track expects more developments this year.
Superconducting is also supposedly poised to facilitate dramatic savings in size, weight and power requirements for things such as motors, infrared cameras and analog quantum computers, which Dr. Track claims will lead to improvements in diverse areas like transportation, astronomy and weather forecasting, as well as leading to dramatic increases in processing complex mathematical computations. Eventually, there'll undoubtedly be technological "trickle down" to more mainstream applications aimed at those of us who live in the everyday world.
This is all enlightened speculation of course, especially when you consider that the source appears to have a vested interest in the technology, but imagine what society could do with cheaper power, cheaper and more efficient engines and the like. It very nearly boggles the mind.
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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