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The Physics of Superconductivity

 

800px-Meissner_effect_p1390048(B)Any scientist can tell you that superconductors are materials with incredibly exotic qualities: zero electrical resistance, repulsion of magnetic fields (the Meissner Effect), and superfluidity (among other effects). How to explain why is another matter entirely! For one, there is more than one model of physics – it takes multiple theories to explain, and physicists haven’t finished deciding (or developing) which model is the “one size fits all” for the entire universe yet. It probably didn’t help that physicists couldn’t agree for a long time on whether light is a wave or a particle (it’s actually either or both, depending on your point of view).

 

 

For example: Although light displays clearly wave-like phenomena such as diffraction and interference on the length scale of its wavelength, many anomalous experiments could be explained if the energy of a Maxwellian light wave were localized into point-like quanta that move independently of one another. However, since the photon seems to be a point-like particle, being absorbed or emitted as a whole by arbitrarily small systems (much smaller than its wavelength, such as an atomic nucleus or even the point-like electron), we will treat it as a gauge boson so we can easily compare it to a fermion. After all, our present understanding is that the electromagnetic field itself is produced by photons, which in turn result from a local gauge symmetry and the laws of quantum field theory. No wonder most people have such a difficult time understanding!

 

 

In particle physics, there is a model that is generally accepted as the standard, named the Standard Model. The Standard Model is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. The subatomic particles fit into three overlapping classes: Hadrons, Bosons, and Fermions. Bosons can be Hadrons and Fermions can be Hadrons, but Bosons can not be Fermions. We’re not going to distinguish between Quarks and Leptons. 🙂

 

It can get confusing, so we’ll try to keep this simple. The difference between all these particles is mainly based on three properties: mass, charge, and spin. The mass of Fermions is thought to be granted by W- and Z-Bosons, however the gravitational effects produced by mass is thought to come from the Higgs Boson (just recently found to exist, as of the Summer of 2012). Charge designates electroweak reactions – basically, how the particles interact. Spin tells you whether a particle is mass or energy. Spin is the main difference between Fermions and Bosons, with Fermions having fractional spin (-1/2, 1/2) and Bosons having integer spin (-1, 0, 1). We will primarily concern ourselves with spin here, for simplicity.

 

 

Fermions

 

Fermions include the following particles: Leptons, such as Electrons and Neutrinos (which can only be Fermions), and Baryons, such as Protons and Neutrons (which can also be Hadrons). Due to their fractional spin, Fermions are asymmetric and consist of all solid matter. Fermions have mass. Also, Fermions obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which states that no two Fermions with the same spin may occupy the same (one-particle) quantum state simultaneously.

 

 

Bosons

 

Bosons include the following particles: Photons, W- and Z-Bosons, Gluons, and Higgs Bosons (which are all strictly Bosons), and Mesons such as Pions and Kaons (also Hadrons). These particles have integer spin, and are therefore symmetrical. While both W- and Z-Bosons have mass, only the Z-Boson has charge. Photons are massless and have zero charge. Lastly, Bosons are not subject to the Pauli exclusion principle: any number of identical bosons can occupy the same quantum state, as with, for instance, photons produced by a laser and Bose–Einstein condensate.

 

 

Interestingly relevant is the fact that a superconductor is a Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC). A BEC is said to be a state of matter of a dilute gas of bosons cooled to temperatures very near absolute zero (0 K or −273.15 °C). Under such conditions, a large fraction of the bosons occupy the lowest quantum state, at which point quantum effects become apparent on a macroscopic scale. These effects are called macroscopic quantum phenomena.

 

 

Since we know that “high temperature” superconductors exist that only require temperatures as low as 90 to 130 K (-183 to -143°C) to achieve this state, the threshold for the phase-change (Tc temperature) must have some flexibility. This is the idea behind the ability for superconductivity to be possible at much higher temperatures. Also, we know that superconductors are a solid, not gas, so we might next ask ourselves how a solid material can behave like a Boson. The answer lies in BCS Theory, which explains how an exotic effect occurs where like-charged particles do not repel.

 

According to BCS Theory, a cooper pair is formed when two electrons (or other fermions) are bound together by an arbitrarily small attraction that can cause them to enter a paired state with a lower energy than the Fermi energy. Normally, since electrons have negative charge, and like-charges repel, they don’t pair up. However, when the collective energy of the particles dips below a certain threshold, an electron-phonon interaction occurs and they form pairs. Cooper pairs condense into a boson-like state, resulting in the microscopic effect responsible for superconductivity. The electron pair is not permanent and electrons are said to be able to go in and out of the pair, but, as long as the total energy of all electrons in the material is less than the “Fermi Energy”, electrons are paired. Since the condensation causes the negatively-charged electrons to all share the same state, they are no longer subject to the Pauli Exclusion Principle and behave like Bosons.

 

The mathematical reason behind why Fermions that form Cooper Pairs behave like Bosons is due to their spin. Since Fermions have 1/2-spins, them pairing up causes them to exhibit integer-spin characteristics (-1/2 + 1/2 = 0). This is how matter can behave like energy and have such strange, exotic properties, such as those found in a superconductor.

 

If I lost you up there, please see the following video:

 

 

Read more on Superconductivity:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconductivity

 

Read
more on the Meissner Effect:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meissner_effect

 

Read more on the Standard Model of Particle Physics:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_model

 

Read more on Bose-Einstein Condensates:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bose-Einstein_condensate

 

Read more on BCS Theory:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BCS_theory

 

Read more on Cooper Pairing:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooper_pair

 

 

Now that we have a better understanding of the physics behind superconductivity, we can appreciate the subtle sciences that bridge matter and energy to bring quantum mechanics into the 3rd dimension. This understanding is the scaffolding we need to reach the comprehension of an extraordinary phenomenon: The discovery of materials which behave like superconductors, at room temperature!

Click Here to read How Ormus Can Be A Room-Temperature Superconductor

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