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An Oxygen Key to the New Superconductors

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Science  29 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4805, pp. 1063-1065
DOI: 10.1126/science.236.4805.1063


First it was the physicists, then the chemists, and most recently the materials scientists and ceramists who have hastily included in their annual meetings symposia on the new high-temperature, ceramic superconductors. Below are briefings from the 1987 Spring Meeting of the Materials Research Society (MRS) that was held in Anaheim, California, from 21 to 24 April, 1 week before the American Ceramics Society's conclave in Pittsburgh.

With the initial wave of euphoria now past, the atmosphere in Anaheim was decidedly more professional than that of the now fabled "Woodstock of Physics" that was part of the American Physical Society's March Meeting in New York City only 5 weeks before. Nonetheless, perhaps 1500 materials researchers listened to 69 scheduled papers and several late walk-ons that were crammed into a 2-day symposium. With a martial strictness, cochairs Michael Schlüter of AT&T Bell Laboratories and Donald Gubser of the Naval Research Laboratory kept the talks to the allotted 10 minutes each.

Except for an impassioned presentation by Juei-Teng Chen of Wayne State University, who sought to convince listeners that a group there had seen dear signs of superconductivity at 240 K, which is ambient temperature during a cold night on the northern plains, no significant indications of room-temperature superconductivity were reported. The most skeptical view was that of Theodore Geballe of Stanford University, who suggested that some of the unreproducible signs seen in several laboratories could be due to something other than superconductivity, as similar effects disappeared in Stanford samples with repeated cycling between room and liquid-nitrogen temperature.

If there was one theme at the symposium, it was that oxygen is the key to the family of rare-earth-based ceramic materials now in hand that remain superconducting up to about 100 K.