Bell Labs Develops Plastic Superconductor

March 08, 2001 by Jeff Shepard

Bell Labs, the research and development division of Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ), has developed what they claim is the world's first plastic superconductor. The plastic, described in the current issue of Nature, is an inexpensive material that could be used in the future for applications such as quantum computing and superconducting electronics.

Bell Labs reports that the scientists created the superconductor by making a solution to contain the plastic polymer, polythiophene. They then deposited thin films of it onto an underlying layer so that the polymer molecules lay stacked up orderly against one another. Then, the researchers removed electrons from the polythiophene in order to change the material's electrical properties.

Drawbacks of the new superconductor include the fact that the temperature must be below -455 degrees F for the polythiophene to become superconducting. However, scientists report that they are confident that they can raise this temperature by altering the molecular structure of the polymer. Furthermore, scientists believe that polythiophene, which can be a regular conductor at room temperatures, may be the first of many superconducting plastics.

“With the method we used, many organic materials may potentially be made superconducting now," said Zhenan Bao, a Bell Labs chemist who was involved in the research. Her colleague, Ananth Dodabalpur, added, “A new window into nature has opened up."

Bell Labs scientists involved in the research include Zhenan Bao, Ananth Dodabalapur, Hendrik Schon, Christian Kloc and Bertram Batlogg. A collaborator from the University of Konstanz in Germany, Ortin Schenker, also participated.