Disclaimer: I’m not a materials scientist. I may update this over time as I collate more information

Updated 2023-07-31 – Spacebattles table (11 online replication efforts)

On 22 July 2023, two mysterious papers were suddenly published in arxiv.org – this is a website of scientific papers that is often the first step to peer-reviewed publication, but it’s not a total confirmation. They were published about two hours apart – the first one, with three authors credited, claims to have created the world’s first room-temperature-and-pressure (RTP) superconductor.

This first paper is short and appears to be hastily written, and has three authors attached: Sukbae LeeJi-Hoon KimYoung-Wan Kwon.

The second paper is much more detailed, though there are some signs it that was still pushed out a bit quickly. However, even more curiously, it has six authors: Sukbae LeeJihoon KimHyun-Tak KimSungyeon ImSooMin An, and Keun Ho Auh. The third author of the first paper is removed from the second.

The purported properties of the material labeled “LK-99” are incredible. Originally synthesised in 1999, not only is it RTP, but the critical temperature is actually 127°C – above the boiling temperature of water. The synthesis method is also shockingly simple: Finely grind and mix Lanarkite (Pb2(SO4)O) and Copper Phosphide (Cu3P) and bake it at 925°C in a vacuum chamber for a day. The ability to discover and synthesise it has theoretically been available since the industrial revolution. Now, one should be able to do it in a garage or home lab.

The reaction online is a rapid mix of skepticism and curiosity. Fraudulent claims have occurred before – the previous one claimed it required 10,000 atm, as a deliberate delay to independent verification. That doesn’t exist here. The authorship is also curious: The main authors are experts in superconductivity and magnetic research. It is widely noted that only a maximum of three people can recieve a Nobel Prize. Was the first paper a deliberate attempt to flag themselves as the finders?

Young-Wan Kwon, the removed author from the first paper, crashes a science conference several days later and talks about the discovery. He couldn’t demonstrate a sample, and was apparently expelled from the science group months ago. Is this a sign of treachery? In-fighting for credit? It makes the whole thing pass the sniff test. Many of us may not believe it yet, but they certainly do. What else could make an expert behave like that?

As I begin writing this post on 30 July, the live reaction – and attempts to replicate it – has been developing day-by-day on the scientific community on Twitter. A space engineering startup in the Los Angeles area coincidentally has all the tools on-hand and available, and quickly orders the materials and blogs about the day-by-day progress of synthesis. A Korean user fluent in English begins translating news from Korean newspapers and internet forums. A Chinese user does the same for Chinese social media. Scientists who maintain an online presence begin explaining the implications and dissect the paper. Someone begins compiling key figures acting as information sources across language barriers.

The magic of room-temperature superconductors is something that shows up in sci-fi, and is easily understood at the high-school physics level. But having most of these ongoing news break on Twitter… well, I’m not a heavy user of Twitter, but I never quite figured out a good way to track an event after it has occured. It’s very good for a live feed, but it gets rather scattered if you’re trying to catch up. This post is just my way of making sense of the key opening events.

Is it nothing? Is it less than expected? At the very least, there’s a lot of buzz right now. At the very least, I might stick additional events in chronological order below the next couple of separator lines.


What’s the Big Deal?

If you need a quick high-school physics primer, here’s the deal:

A superconductor is an electrical conductor with zero resistance. It was first discovered when it was found that resistance drops with temperature, and for some reason, instead of dropping in a curve, some materials immediately drop to zero resistance when they pass a certain point, called the ‘critical temperature’. Zero resistance means that no heat is generated when electricity passes through; in other words, the wire is 100% efficient and energy is not lost over distance, and there’s no heat generation at super-high voltages. The caveat is that the temperature for most of these needs to be way below -200°C. You still need to spend a lot of energy keeping it cool, but the heat doesn’t come from the electricity.

The general result is that any device using superconducting material – such as MRI machines – are bulky and immobile, due to the constant need for cryogenics. A room-temperature superconductor allows for things like an infinitely long power cable without loss, or a portable MRI scanner.

A Rough History of Original Synthesis to the Paper

Based on the investigation by this user, Sukbae Lee and Jihoon Kim originally found the material in 1999 – thus the label “LK-99”. They were in graduate school at the time, and their mentor was also an expert in this area, theorising that there were signs of superconductivity in this, but required more research. They seem to shelve the whole thing due to the nature of graduate school.

Fast-forwarding to 2017, Lee & Kim have scientific careers, and are called back by their mentor, who encourages them to complete the research. However, without any backing – particularly on the English-speaking international level – they work with Young-Wan Kwon and somehow acquire funding.

By 2022 and early 2023, patents are filed. Something happens with Kwon, and he appears to publish the first paper without warning.

The Third Paper

In one of the citations for the detailed paper, one of the citations is one of their own papers published several months prior about the theoretical causes of superconductivity in LK-99. The paper is written in Korean, though there is an abstract in English: The general idea is that a one-dimensional electron structure could explain the high temperature superconductivity of the material, which has a critical temperature of at least over 97°C.

(I’m not a materials scientist so don’t expect a good explanation.)


Online Claims / Liveblogged replication efforts

This is (initially) a copy of Guderian2nd’s table on the discussion thread on Spacebattles with a bit of cleanup.

Academia
Group Country Status Results Notes Sources
Argonne National Laboratory America ??? ??? Replication is ongoing.

According to a request for comment, a theorist at Argonne says “They come off as real amateurs. They don’t know much about superconductivity and the way they’ve presented some of the data is fishy.”
Science.org
School of Physics, Nanjing University China ??? ??? The article is mostly a summary of initial events and some reaction and skepticism from the scientific world, as well as educating the reader on superconductivity and its qualifiers.

Physics Professor Wen Haihu says that the data is not convincing, but a colleague was sent to work on it.
ScienceNet.cn
Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) China Retrying 1: Partial

2: Partial

3: TBD
Only source are screenshots of WeChat.

Translation by Elsa Zhou says that it seems legitimate: Twitter Thread or Medium

Some magnetic qualities have been replicated, but no Meissner effect. Low purity is suspected.

Zhihu
Institute of Physics – Chinese Academy of Sciences (IoP-CAS) China N/A ??? Unsubstantiated claims of success or failure were made immediately after the story broke.

However, official accounts say they are not aware of any replication attempts.
Zhihu_1

Zhihu_2

Zhihu_3
Council Of Scientific And Industrial Research – National Physical Laboratory of India (CSIR-NPLI) India Retrying 1: Fail Dr. V.P.S. Awana from CSIR-NPLI posted their results on his personal Facebook.

Their first attempt altered the recipe, as the result should still have been the same molecular structure as the authors claimed. The resulting specimen did not display superconductivity, or even diamagnetism – it was paramagnetic.

They are in contact with the original authors (Lee Seok-Bae) about how to properly replicate. They are positing that their altered procedure led to an improper doping of Copper, and are currently retrying by more closely following the recipe in the paper.
Facebook

Imgur mirror
Individual / Private
Individual Country Credentials Status Results Notes Sources
Andrew McCalip @ Twitter America Engineer at Varda Synthing Cu3P TBD He’s liveblogging his progress on Twitter and also streaming the furnace burn on Twitch when possible.

(If the stream is offline, may I suggest watching paint dry?)

As of 2023-07-31, he is waiting for the Copper Phosphide synthesis from partners.

(Red phosphorus cannot be obtained on short notice from a new customer in the USA due to DEA restrictions.)
Twitter

Twitch
半导体与物理 @ Zhihu China ??? Testing TBD This person was regularly posting screenshots of their synthesis procedure on a forum thread. Zhihu
胡豆 @ Zhihu China ??? Synthing Cu3P TBD This person was also regularly posting screenshots of their synthesis procedure on a forum thread. Zhihu
关山口男子技师 @ Bilibili China Claims to work at HUST Complete 1-4: Fail Claims that they are from HUST. Livestreamed/posted video on 4 sample experiments.

All 4 samples failed to display any magnetic reaction – however, they close the experiment by saying that 4 independent tests don’t override the sample sizes of the original paper.
Bilibili_1

Bilibili_2

Bilibili_3

Twitter
amita @ Zhihu N/A ??? Complete Fail This user is only writing a forum post with second-hand reporting. There is apparently another failure somewhere, but there are also references to the bilibili streamer above (the one with the 4 samples). Zhihu
Iris Alexandra @ Twitter Russia ??? Testing Partial This is a new personal Twitter user (April 2023) with a descriptor of “resident plant physiology and method refinement nerd.”

They have criticised the synthesis method of the Lanarkite and Cu3P (the base materials) and used an alternate method for it.

They have produced a grain of material with levitating properties.
Twitter_1

Twitter_2

Twitter_3

Timeline?

Note: Everything below this line may not be useful and may be edited later

22 July 2023: The two papers are uploaded to arxiv.org. The first one is short and reads like a popular science article. The second one is more elaborate.

23 July 2023:

24 July 2023:

25 July 2023:

26 July 2023: Andrew McCalip shares that he has all the neccessary tools at his company. He can’t quickly obtain red phosphorus due to regulations, but manages to contact another local lab that can immediately synthesise the Copper Phosphide.

Hyun-Tak Kim, an author on the second paper, contacts New Scientist and

27 July 2023: Andrew McCalip begins construction for synthesis.

28 July 2023:

29 July 2023: On WeChat (Chinese social media), claims of replication of some of the properties are made. However, the Meissner effect (levitation) is not observed. Since this is a first attempt, the current belief is that the material was not synthesised to sufficiently high quality.

30 July 2023: Scientists and communicators on Twitter organise a discussion space to synchronise all the developments so far.

Read More