Emma Wilson

The large amount of electrical energy used in the United States poses a potential problem for the future — but recent research conducted by Seamus Davis may be part of the solution.

Davis, a professor at Cornell, gave a talk on Monday afternoon at Sloane Physics Laboratory about his research on the feasibility of superconductivity, a characteristic of substance capable of transferring electrical energy more efficiently than traditional conductors.

“The potential significance of room-temperature superconductors is revolutionary,” Davis said. “It will be just like what happened 100 years ago with the widespread use of electricity. Imagine a computer that is able to run 1,000 times faster on 1,000 times less power.”

The main drawback of superconductors is that they can function only at extremely low temperatures, close to absolute zero; as of now, the notion of a room-temperature superconductor is hypothetical.

Based on Davis’s recent findings, however, that prospect could soon become less hypothetical.

“I don’t believe there are any fundamental barriers with the ideas anymore,” Davis told the News. “The barriers are now more related to materials.”

Davis’s research involves newly designed technologies that map the quantum mechanics of an atom more precisely than previous methods could. Using detailed pictures as part of his presentation, Davis drove home his theory that superconductors can exist even at room temperature.

Charles Ahn, a mechanical engineering professor at Yale, organized the talk and briefly introduced Davis before the lecture.

“Seamus is one of the foremost physicists of this generation,” Ahn said. “He also has a reputation for being a great speaker. There’s a running joke the you hope you never have to speak after him.”

Among those in attendance at the talk was Steve Girvin, the former deputy provost of research, who applauded Davis for his use of visuals to present inherently complicated ideas. It’s easier to visualize molecular concepts through images of atoms rather than graphs that audience members must interpret on their own, he said.

Girvin added that he was impressed by Davis’s findings, saying they contribute significantly to the field of superconductivity.

“The experiments that Seamus has conducted are very difficult to carry out,” Girvin said. “There has been a 30-year mystery of what the physics are underlying high-temperature superconductivity. This research is really helping to narrow down the theories.”

Davis’s work has far-reaching implications for sustainability. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, superconductors are the “holy grail” of energy efficiency.

Although the hourlong talk focused primarily on advanced quantum mechanics principles, Davis found ways to incorporate some humor into the event.

“When I started in this business, I was very intimidated by putting one atom on the tip of a microscope,” David said. “But as the Greek philosophers said, there is one atom on the tip of every object. It works every time!”

Around 50 undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members attended the talk in SPL 57.

Allen Siegler | allen.siegler@yale.edu