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Super Silicon: Top semiconductor turns into a superconductor

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11:37am, November 21, 2006

While not yet leaping over tall buildings in a single bound, silicon is doing something pretty super these days—conducting electricity with zero resistance.

The material achieved that triumph when physicists in France crammed unprecedented numbers of boron atoms into a silicon wafer's surface. When cooled to less than 0.4 kelvin, the boron-laden silicon permitted electrons to flow unimpeded, the scientists report in the Nov. 23 Nature.

As the stuff of microchips, "silicon has become the technologically most important material of the past 50 years," notes superconductivity researcher Robert J. Cava of Princeton University in a commentary in the same journal issue. Silicon's characteristics as a semiconductor—a substance with electrical properties midway between those of a conductor and an insulator—make it the dominant material of microelectronics.

In experiments in the 1980s, other teams fleetingly made silicon a superconductor when they

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