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July 15, 1987


By CBR Staff Writer

A British company has made a major breakthrough in the fabrication of ceramic high temperature superconductive materials. According to Leonard Holihan, chief executive of the Advanced Energy Research Institute, Basic Volume Ltd, a five-man outfit in Norwood, South London, produced the world’s first ceramic superconducting solenoid on April 24 this year and has now made a 5 long, 39 thou – 1mm – thick Lanthanide-Transition metal oxide tube, 1 in diameter that superconducts at above minus 196`C. The significance of the development is the size of the tube – in most recent claims for high-temperature superconductivity, the property has been detected only fleetingly in small parts of the material. The original solenoid was yesterday presented to the Science Museum in London. Basic Volume has sold most of its other early tubes to universities and companies worldwide and now believes that it will be a matter of months rather than years before the first commercial applications start to appear. Already, Birmingham and Strathclyde Universities have announced the first electronic devices using superconducting ceramics – extremely sensitive magnetic field detectors; Strathclyde’s device works at liquid Nitrogen temperatures. Basic Volume’s Dr Tavares and his team think that early commercial uses will include Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, magnetic separation, magnetic bearings and high torque DC motors, spin resonance, spectroscopy and electron imaging. Former STC chairman Sir Kenneth Corfield said yesterday that he expected room temp-erature superconducive chips to be widely available within three years, although Dr Thomas Farthing of IMI Titanium, one of Britain’s leading superconductor companies, thinks it will take five to 10 years. Basic Volume claims to have fabricated the Lanthanide-Transition metal oxides, necessary for the new superconductivity back in 1984, a claim borne out by its catalogue for that year. However the suitability of the compound for high temperature applications remained undiscovered until last September when IBM’s Dr Muller dipped the material in liquid Nitrogen – cheaper than milk, says Holihan – rather than the pricey liquid Helium, which cools to around minus 250`C, and observed its ability to superconduct. The benefits of Basic Volume’s breakthrough from the UK point of view may be short-lived – both Birmingham and Strathclyde’s departments are running out of money for research while Basic Volume has yet to receive any outside funding. To date, the UK government’s only initiative on superconductivity has been creation of an industry-based steering committee to co-ordinate research. This consists of GEC, Plessey, British Telecom, British Aerospace, Lucas, Oxford Instruments, Philips, Thorn EMI, STC and ICI, but it is likely to receive only UKP5m in the first year towards its mission of galvanising British research.

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