Grant allows UH researcher to improve superconductivity
Paul Chu — T.L.L. Temple Chair of Science, founding director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity and professor of physics at UH — said he believes the $1.8 million grant given by the Department of Defense and project collaborators will cut costs not only in the area of research but on a consumer level as well.
“A problem we face is that materials, such as cable, are very expensive,” Chu said. “Once you cut costs in the area of development, they go down for consumers, too.”
Superconductivity is the ability of electric currents to go through certain materials without resistance or energy loss. Besides the cost benefit, Chu’s research also will benefit the environment.
“Right now, electricity is transmitted from a power plant to the home through copper wire, which has resistance,” Chu said. “Once you switch it off, any energy flowing through that wire is wasted. But with superconducting wire, that electricity will flow in a loop forever.”
Chu also hopes to use the project to advance the study of thermoelectricity, which is generated by converting temperature differences. Although there is an abundance of natural heat energy, research has yet to find a way to leverage it due to needing smaller differences in temperature, Chu said.
Chu, who came to UH in 1979, believes the machine he plans to build will be instrumental in further research, as it will allow one to examine samples in a closed environment without interference from particles in the air. However, the process is complex; Chu said it will take at least two years to build.
“We’re going to try and get as many parts from companies as possible, but we’ll have to design the crucial parts because there’s no such system of the type that we envision,” Chu said. “I’ve already told the Air Force they have to give us more time since we have to design, construct and test them.”