Milestone-Proposal:DISCOVERY OF SUPERCONDUCTIVITY 1911
From GHNDocket #:2010-05
This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone Nomination
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Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?
Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution)
Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?
Was it of at least regional importance?
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?
Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?
Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes
Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:
Title of the proposed milestone:
DISCOVERY OF SUPERCONDUCTIVITY 1911
Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:
In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?
Benelux Section, IEEE Region 8
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):
Unit: IEEE Council on Superconductivity
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:
Unit: Benelux Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name
Unit: Benelux Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name
IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):
IEEE Section: Benelux Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Section chair name
Proposer name: Dr. Martin Nisenoff
Proposer email: Proposer email
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):
Leiden. The Netherlands
Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.
Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need.
The Milestone Plaque will be mounted in or near the entrance hall to the Kamerlingh Onnes Building at the University of Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands. Prior to renovations of this building about ten years ago, the Physical Laboratory of the University of Leiden was housed in this building. The entrance hall in the renovated building occupies the same space as did Room 1 of the old Physical Laboratory where the discovery of superconductivity was made on April 8, 1911. Therefore, mounting the Milestone Plaque in the entrance hall of the Kamerlingh Onnes Building and dedicating it on April 8, 2011 would be totally appropriate as it would be on the “exact” location where the discovery was made and would be exactly 100 years after the discovery. The building where the Plaque willbe mounted is: Kamerlingh Onnes Building University of Leiden Steenschuur 25 1211 ES Leiden. The Netherlands The Milestone Plaque would be mounted in or near the entrance hall of the building which would be the exact location in the building were the discovery was made on April 8, 1911
Are the original buildings extant?
Details of the plaque mounting:
How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?
The Kamerlingh Onnes Building is a university building and therefore students of the university and visitors will have free access to the site where the Milestone Plaque(s) will be mounted, subject to the usual regulations on access to university buildings including the Kamerlingh Onnes Building. (For example, the building may be locked outside of usual university hours and certain lecture and class rooms may be locked when these rooms are not in use. The latter restriction will not impact on access to the Milestone Plaques.)
Who is the present owner of the site(s)?
University of Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands
A letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property:
A letter or email from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application:
What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?
Superconducting offers a class of electrical conducting materials which exhibit (near) zero electrical loss and a number of quantum mechanical properties which can be result in many novel and unique electrical and electronic devices and systems. When a sample is in the superconducting state, which for all known superconducting elements, compounds and alloys occur at temperatures below about minus 100 C, samples can carry very large electric currents without any Joule heating. Hence one can build electrical machinery, large electromagnets and high current carrying power transmission cables that can operate very efficiently without any dissipation; the only energy required by these superconducting devices and systems is for the refrigeration facility to maintain the device at temperatures below its critical transition temperature. Superconducting components, devices and systems can have overall electrical power requirements which can be two to five orders of magnitude smaller than corresponding devices and systems built using conventional (dissipative) technologies. Superconducting magnets have been the enabling technology in a number of medical diagnostic applications, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), as well as most of the recent and future High Energy Physics particle accelerators such at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (Geneva, Switzerland). The technology is currently under evaluation for use in making the national electric power grids more efficient by enabling improved power transmission, low loss power transformers and fault current limiters, etc. For electronic applications, superconductivity Josephson Junction devices are used in the internationally accepted voltage standard and in ultra sensitive magnetometers which have been used in non-contacting, non invasive magnetrocardiography and magnetoencephalography, locagiuon of ocal epilepsy and cognitive neuroscience studies Furthermore, Josephson junction technology has the potential to yield digital logic chips with clock frequencies at least an order of magnitude faster than possible with current semiconductor technology.
What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?
The primary obstacle, which was technical in nature, to the discovery of superconductivity was the inability to reach to ultra low temperatures, temperatures below minus 263 C. (All known elemental superconductors have superconducting transition temperatures below minus 264 C.) Prior to 1908, the lowest temperature that could be reached was about minus 260 C, using liquid hydrogen as the refrigerant. Neat the end of the 19th century, Prof. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes started a research program at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands, to liquefy helium, which at that time was the only known gas that had not yet been liquefied. In 1908, on July 10th, Prof Kamerlingh Onnes was successful in liquefying helium which, at atmospheric pressure, boils at a temperature of about minus 269 C. For this accomplishment, Prof. Kamerlingh Onnes received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1913. Once Prof. Kamerlingh Onnes was able to produce small quantities of liquid helium, and after he and his colleagues learned how to make precision measurements at temperatures down to about minus 272 C (by reducing the pressure over a helium bath), he began the study of the electrical, thermal and mechanical properties of materials at temperatures that could be realized only by using liquid helium as the refrigerant. One of the areas of research was the investigation of the resistivity of very pure metals at these ultra low temperatures, On April 8, 1911, while studying the resistivity of a very pure mercury sample, when the temperature was lowered below about minus 269 C. Prof. Kamerlingh Onnes and his collaborators, Cornelis Dorsman, Gerrit Jan Flim, and Gilles Holst observed that the resistivity dramatically dropped to “practically zero”, certainly it had decreased by more than six orders of magnitude! (In latter years, other researchers estimated that if a superconductor did indeed have a finite resistivity, it would be at least 23 orders of magnitude smaller than that of copper at room temperature!) He subsequently showed that by cycling the temperature around this ”critical temperature” he was able to reproducibly cycle the sample between the “zero resistance” or “superconducting “state and the normal-conducting state, indicating that the transition was indeed a true physical phenomena. Prof. H. Kamerlingh Onnes and his collaborators at the University of Leiden were in a unique position to discover superconductivity since until about 1923, their laboratory was the only research laboratory in the world where liquid helium was available, and thus where measurements could be made in the temperature region where elemental superconductor exhibited superconductivity.
What features set this work apart from similar achievements?
The discovery of the phenomena of superconductivity at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands by Prof. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes and his colleagues in 1911 was a totally unexpected result, which opened a completely new area of research in the science and technology of electrical conduction in solids materials and in the development of energy efficient electrical devices and systems
References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement:
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