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Superconductors are materials with a resistivity of zero below a critical temperature.

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  • Because the resistance of a piece of a superconductor is zero, there are no heat losses for currents through them.
    • This means that the current could flow forever.
  • But most superconductors must be cooled to temperatures only a few Kelvin above absolute zero.
  • This is very expensive and limits the use of superconductors.
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Uses of superconductors

  • Superconductors are used in magnets needing high currents, such as in MRI machines.
  • If we could make our power lines superconductors they would cut energy losses in power transmission.
  • Recently advancements have been made which mark progress towards making superconductors work at room temperature.

Applications of Superconductors

Superconductors have zero resistance. This is a useful quality and is used in many applications.

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Zero resistance

  • Superconductors occur when free electrons combine to form Cooper pairs at low temperatures.
  • These Cooper pairs collide with the other atoms in the material and, if the energy of the collision is low, then the Cooper pairs do not split and lose energy.
  • This means that the resistivity of the superconducting material is zero.
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Magnetic fields

  • Moving charges produce magnetic fields.
  • If the charges move less, the magnetic field strength reduces.
  • There needs to be a constant movement of charge to maintain a large magnetic field.
    • With high resistance situations, this requirement would result in a lot of excess heat.
  • Magnets made of superconductors have zero resistivity so that once currents have been set up, they continue without loss of energy.
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Reduction of energy loss

  • Superconductors can also reduce energy loss in energy transmission.
    • Cables made of superconductors would have no power losses.

Jump to other topics

1Measurements & Errors

2Particles & Radiation


4Mechanics & Materials


6Further Mechanics & Thermal Physics (A2 only)

7Fields & Their Consequences (A2 only)

8Nuclear Physics (A2 only)

9Option: Astrophysics (A2 only)

10Option: Medical Physics (A2 only)

11Option: Engineering Physics (A2 only)

12Option: Turning Points in Physics (A2 only)

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