The Woodstock of Physics 20 Years Later


We so often hear about advances right around the corner like hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol and carbon sequestration. A sobering tale of the pace of science from the New York Times:

By the time they got to New York they were two thousand strong, scientists gathering to hear the big news about a breakthrough class of materials called high-temperature superconductors, which promised amazing new technologies like magnetically levitated trains. K. Alex Müller and J. Georg Bednorz at the Zurich laboratory of I.B.M first created a ceramic superconductor that worked at -400 degrees F, and by 1987 others were pushing the envelope to a balmy -300 degrees.

From the Times:"I remember there was a crowd of 2,000 people outside the doors," Dr. Schwartz said. "When the doors opened, it was a riot."

The seats filled. So did the floor space in the aisles. Others watched video monitors set up around the hotel. Each speaker tried to wow the crowd with yet another discovery. "It was like the Texas chili cook-off or the Iowa State Fair apple pie bake-off," Dr. Schewe said. "What's your secret ingredient? That's what it seemed like." Fifty-one talks later, the session ended at 3:15 a.m. People lingered in the halls until almost sunrise. The session quickly became known as the "Woodstock of Physics."

The Times continues: But today the heady early promises have not yet been fully filled. High-temperature superconductors can be found in some trial high-capacity power cables, but they have not made any trains levitate. The rise in transition temperatures has stalled again, well below room temperature. Theorists have yet to find a convincing explanation for why high-temperature superconductors superconduct at all. ::New York Times