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Electronic Materials

Periodic Graphics

Periodic Graphics: The science of superconductors

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning details the history and science of superconductors.

by Andy Brunning, special to C&EN
September 18, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 31


Screen Reader Text Test 1: The science of superconductors

Screen Reader Text Test 2: Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning details the history and science of superconductors.

End Screen Reader Test

Three-column infographic on superconductors. 
The first column explains the premise of electrical resistance and that superconductors are materials in which resistance drops to zero below a certain critical temperature. Some materials act as superconductors because electrons pair up and flow together, overcoming resistance. For other materials, we don’t know why they act as superconductors.
The second column highlights some key milestones in superconductor history. In 1911, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity in mercury by cooling it with liquid helium. J. Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller discovered superconductivity in a copper oxide ceramic, which C. W. Chu modified to make a material that superconducted at a temperature achievable using liquid nitrogen as a coolant. The current record-holding superconductor at ambient pressure superconducts at –140.1 ˚C. 
The third column highlights applications of superconductors. These include magnetic resonance imaging machines in hospitals, superconducting maglev trains, and particle accelerators. All these use superconducting niobium-titanium magnets.
Credit: Andy Brunning

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References used to create this graphic:

Bhattacharya, Mishkat. “How Do Superconductors Work? A Physicist Explains What It Means to Have Resistance-Free Electricity.” Conversation, March 24, 2023.

Durrani, Jamie. “Room Temperature Superconductivity Is Now within Touching Distance—but It Won’t Change the World Yet.Chemistry World, Sept. 28, 2020.

Du, Zengyi, Hui Li, Sang Hyun Joo, Elizabeth P. Donoway, Jinho Lee, J. C. Séamus Davis, Genda Gu, Peter D. Johnson, and Kazuhiro Fujita. “Imaging the Energy Gap Modulations of the Cuprate Pair-Density-Wave State.Nature (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2143-x.

Siegel, Ethan. “How Close Are We to the Holy Grail of Room-Temperature Superconductors?Forbes, July 7, 2021.

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit



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