Friday, 13 February 1987 Washington, DC

has been reported by a group at the University of Houston led by Ching-Wu (Paul) Chu. After more than a decade of drought in efforts to find higher temperature superconductors, events in the weeks following an initial breakthrough at IBM Zurich are breathtaking. Superconductivity above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (77K) has enormous economic implications. It could transform the electric power industry and would lead to a reexamination of technologies as diverse as magnetic-confinement fusion and Josephson-junction computers.

It has implications as well for science policy. The new results are a triumph of "small science." The work was supported by NSF and NASA at $90K per annum. It was done at the University of Houston and the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which are not to be found on lists of the top research institutions. Most of the researchers in the group are from either China or Taiwan. What better example of the value of the traditional openness of American science?

Characterization of the latest material, whose composition has not been revealed, has just begun. It is reported to show onset of superconductivity at 98K, with the transition complete at 94K. A similar material with a slightly lower transition has been shown to have a critical field above 60 kilogauss. The current carrying capacity is quite low in the present form, but it can be expected to improve greatly. The material does not require elevated pressures.

was announced by Secretary of Energy John S. Herrington on Tuesday. An invitation for site proposals, with the selection criteria, will be issued in Apr 87, with a deadline of Aug 87. A panel of the National Academies of Science and Engineering will evaluate the proposals and recommend an unranked list of best sites to DoE's Energy System Acquisition Advisory Board by Dec 87. Based on their findings, the Secretary of Energy will designate a preferred site in Jul 88. The final site selection will come in Jan 89 following an environmental impact study.

The land must be provided free of charge by the proposers. Nor will the problem of finding $4.4B for construction cause the Reagan administration many sleepless nights. Funding for the current fiscal year will increase only from $16M to $20M and will rise to just $35M in FY 88, with the increases coming from other programs. The project is reinforced by the concrete industry, which describes it as a "big pour." The recent developments in superconductors, however, introduce a new uncertainty. If the results hold up, it could force a reconsideration of the SSC design, delaying the whole process.

Bob Park can be reached via email at
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