Superconductivity: So simple, yet so hard to explain!
For half a century the world’s most brilliant physics theorists tried scribbling equations, only to crumple the paper and hurl it at a wastebasket. Bend a metal wire into a circle, make it as cold as you possibly can, and set an electric current moving around it. The current can persist. Put the circle of wire above a magnet, and it will float there until the end of the world.
In the decades after this strange discovery, physicists figured out the laws of relativity and quantum mechanics. They worked out equations to calculate all the colors and chemistry of the natural world, they cracked open the atomic nucleus, they uncovered the forces that light the stars... and still nobody had explained that little floating wire.
This exhibit tells how three extraordinary minds worked together to finally solve the puzzle. You will see that getting to a new theory may take not just one "Moment of Discovery" but a string of dozens of such moments among many people. For a personal account, listen to Bob Schrieffer, the youngest of the team, tell what happened in his own words. To get the full background, you can read or listen to how a noted physicist saw the story from an outside perspective. You can also read a detailed account by a historian of physics, and explore other supplementary materials.
- Physics students / scientists can start with an Introduction, the story seen from outside
- Everyone else may want to skip to Bob Schrieffer’s story in his own words
- Explaining superconductivity: A dance analogy (Schrieffer)
- John Bardeen talks about his early years
- A science historian’s account (by Lillian Hoddeson)
- Further Reading and Links
- Exhibit Credits
- A note for teachers