by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
February 25, 2000
AMERICAN SCIENTIST'S WORK ON SUPERCONDUCTORS IS IGNORED AMID ACCLAIM FOR JAPANESE ADVANCE
As scientists heap praise on Japanese scientists who have achieved resistance-free electrical conductivity at exotic temperatures in an inexpensive metal, an American scientist's discovery of negative resistance - a net gain in electrical output - in far cheaper superconducting carbon fiber composite materials, and at room temperature, has been ignored.
Despite peer-reviewed published studies and the respected scientist's long history of prize-winning, innovative work at the State University of New York at Buffalo in its famed Composites Research Laboratory, Dr. Deborah C. Chung'sgroundbreaking work with a variety of carbon fibers in novel arrays has failed to ignite worldwide interest.
On Saturday the MSNBC Web site, which is owned by General Electric, said GE "has estimated that the market for superconductinggenerators alone - cool-running, low-weight and able to operate at up to99 percent efficiency - could be hugely lucrative in the next decade."
In the original Washington Post article by Guy Gugliotta, which was slightly revised by MSNBC in a report under the Post reporter'sbyline, GE said the market "could reach $20 billion to $30 billion in thenext decade."
Dr. Chung's discovery didn't get such a grand launch, even thoughit may prove to be more important= . According to a Feb. 26, 1998, SUNY Buffalo press release, "The[Chung] discovery lays the foundation for structural electronics, a new technology with the extraordinary potential to endow structural materials with electronic capabilities without computer chips or electrical leads.
"The new technology could make possible aircraft components thatare themselves huge energy-storage devices, solar cars whose body panelsare capable of storing tremendous amounts of energy from sunlight and,eventually, even computers without chips," the university said. Dr. Chung, a carbon fibers researcher who heads the SUNY Buffalomaterials lab, has repeatedly published articles and papers in her field'smost important journals demonstrating a net gain in power output afterpassing an electrical current in one direction through a "sandwich" ofwidely-used carbon fiber composite materials.
In the Japanese discovery by a team at Aoyama-Gakuin University in Tokyo headed by researcher Jun Nagamatsu, announced Friday in afour-paragraph article in the respected science journal Nature, scientistssaid they achieved superconductivity -- resistance-free electricaltransmission --in a wire made of magnesium dibromide, a common laboratory material, at a temperature of 389 degrees below zero. Despite the widespread interest in the Japanese work, however, Dean Peterson, chief of the Superconductivity Technology Center at LosAlamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said the discovery may lead nowhere. It is unclear, he said, whether the superconductor will ever work at temperatures high enough to be cooled by nitrogen. Chung, writing in peer-reviewed journals including MaterialsScience and Engineering in 1998 and the journal Composites in 1999 saidthe effect she has demonstrated in carbon composites does not violate thelaw of physics known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says thatenergy can neither be created nor destroyed. That is because it is ananomalous effect created by negative entropy - a local instance in whichthe universal tendency of energy to dissipate - is temporarily reversed,such as when it is stored in an automotive alternator or battery.
In a typed note mailed to the American Reporter, she explained that"The observed apparent negative resistance is associated with electronbackflow, which is driven by entropy. It is not a differential negative resistance, nor is it a true negative resistance. However, the apparent negative resistance involves a direction of electron flow which is akin to true negative resistance, i.e., down the voltage gradient. "Furthermore," she wrote, "it can be controlled via composite engineering to attain zero or non-zero values, thus making it technologically interesting."
The effect can be demonstrated by Dr. Chung not only in the laboratory but in simple self-powered measuring devices that can be encased in concrete and then warn if cracking occurs. Dr. Chung has not proposed the use of the material for transmission lines, where much of the energy generated by utility companies is lost as it travels from generating sources to a customer's home or business. But Dr. Chung's research could lead to power lines that would make California's proposed multibillion investment in a conventional power transmission grid a short-sighted one that becomes obsolete overnight.
The phenomenon occurs only in one direction, she says, andr= esembles resistance in metals when transmitted in the opposite direction."
The research shows that the carbon-fiber composite, consisting of layersof carbon fibers, is semiconducting perpendicular to the plane of thejunction where the fibers intersect and metallic along its horizontalplane," the university press release said. Other materials aresuperconducting in both directions.
Although Dr. Chung has not said so, some observers have speculated that her work is being ignored because it is not backed by the powerful corporate science establishment that underwrites much university and independent research and relies on acclaim for such advances in order to get funding for new projects. She is also a woman and a materials engineering scientist in a field almost exclusively dominated by male physicists.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter.