100 Years of Superconductivity

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Speaker: A/Prof. Ben Powell (University of Queensland)
Date: 21st October 2011

This year is the 100th anniversary of Heike Kamerling Onnes’s discovery of superconductivity. Superconductors show exactly zero electrical resistance and perfect diamagnetism. The explanation of this phenomena eluded many of the greatest theorists of the twentieth century; Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and Feynman all tried and failed to find the correct theory. When Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer (BCS) did find the right theory it became clear that superconductivity was a quantum many-body effect, i.e., that interactions between electrons were the crucial driving factor, thus superconductivity was at the vanguard of a fundamental paradigm shift in physics. Superconductivity has also led to fundamental insights into almost every major subfield of physics (e.g. AMO, particle physics and astrophysics). These advances have resulted in more than a dozen Nobel prizes for work on superconductivity. Yet 100 years after Onnes’s discovery new classes of superconductors, which are not described by BCS theory, present profound challenges to physicists.

In this talk I will give an overview for the history and science of superconductors and the connections between superconductivity and subjects as diverse as pulsars and the Higgs boson.