Science reporters around the world are going to have a field day with the headlines today.

In a paper published today in Nature, a team of physicists have set a record for the hottest superconductor. And it smells really bad.

It has been known for many decades now that some materials, when cooled to very low temperatures, exhibit no resistance at all to electrical currents. This has many implications for technology, as no energy is wasted in the form of heat, higher currents can be achieved, and magnetic fields are completed excluded from the material. There are experimental trains that float on superconductors, and every hospital in the modern world uses superconductors in their magnetic resonance imaging machines. 

Unfortunately superconductors all operate at very low temperatures, often between -200C and -100C, and need liquid helium to keep them operating. Mercury becomes superconducting at -270C, while many complicated copper based materials require only -140C.  This tends to limit their usage in common practice. And if anyone comes up with a room temperature superconductor, it will instantly change the world.

Today a superconductor has been discovered that operates at a relatively balmy -70C. And while that is an interesting piece of scientific research on its own, the reason that it is attracting so much attention is that the material is hydrogen sulfide - the exact same substance that makes rotten eggs (among other things) smell horrible. As one commentator wrote today, that means that in Antarctica, where -70C is attainable without cooling equipment, a researcher who happens to generate some hydrogen sulfide gas could actually be generating a superconductor. (It must be said at this point that high pressures are also required, which does reduce the excitement slightly).

In any case, it will be interesting to follow this result and see where it goes. This is a superconducting material which operates at high pressures but relatively normal temperatures. This one doesn't need high powered cooling system. And it is a common and inexpensive substance. Maybe we are finally within sight of a room temperature superconductor.

Only time and more research will tell what advantages this new result will have on society. But it will certainly be fun to watch!