Researchers develop the first plastic superconductor

9 May 2001 News

Scientists from Bell Labs have created a superconducting plastic material. The plastic is an inexpensive material that could be widely used in the future for applications, such as quantum computing and superconducting electronics, say the researchers.

The Bell Labs breakthrough was made possible by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, whose backgrounds range from experimental low-temperature physics to materials science and organic chemistry.

The challenge in creating a plastic superconductor was overcoming the inherent structural randomness of a polymer - similar to strands of cooked spaghetti - which prevented the electronic interactions necessary for superconductivity. The Bell Labs scientists were able to overcome this by making a solution containing the plastic, polythiophene. They then deposited thin films of it onto an underlying layer so that the polymer molecules stacked up against one another like uncooked spaghetti. Instead of adding chemical impurities to change the material's electrical properties, as is often done, the researchers used a novel technique in which they removed electrons from polythiophene.

The temperature below which polythiophene became superconducting was -270°C and the scientists are optimistic that they can raise the temperature in the future by altering the molecular structure of the polymer. "Using the same methods, the scientists believe that many organic materials could potentially now be made superconducting," said Zhenan Bao, a Bell Labs chemist who was involved in the research.

Scientists Zhenan Bao, Ananth Dodabalapur and Christian Kloc were part of a Bell Labs team that produced the world's first plastic superconductor
Scientists Zhenan Bao, Ananth Dodabalapur and Christian Kloc were part of a Bell Labs team that produced the world's first plastic superconductor

"A new window into nature has opened up," said Ananth Dodabalapur, a Device Physicist at Bell Labs and member of the research team, talking of the implications of the breakthrough.

Besides Bao and Dodabalapur, Bell Labs scientists involved in the research were Hendrik Schon, Christian Kloc and Bertram Batlogg. A collaborator from the University of Konstanz in Germany, Ortwin Schenker, also participated in the research. In addition to Bell Labs, Batlogg is affiliated with the solid state physics laboratory at ETH Honggerberg in Switzerland.

Bell Labs scientists have received six Nobel Prizes in Physics, nine US Medals of Science and six US Medals of Technology.

For more information about Bell Labs, visit its website at

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