Scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory are working with a metallic element called niobium to create the next generation of high-energy physics experiments that could solve the mysteries of dark matter, spacetime, and quantum gravity. The result could open new frontiers in physics without the need for accelerators that would have to span the planet in size.
In his epic 3D scifi adventure Avatar, James Cameron tell's the story of the world's first low-temperature superconductor, which was created in the late twentieth century but proved to be useless because of inherent instabilities.
Further efforts proved futile, and researchers finally termed their goal "Unobtainium," until the first unmanned exploration vehicle reached Alpha Centauri System and discovered deposits of a room temperature superconducting substance on an Earth-like moon named Pandora - Unobtanium had been found at last.
Unobtanium proved to be the most baffling of scientific discoveries in the area of superconductors as it had an extremely strong magnetic field, reversing prior knowledge that all superconductors repel magnetic fields. Unobtanium had a unique magnetic field and properties of superconductivity, causing it to levitate in magnetic fields under the Meissner Effect. The unique magnetic properties of Unobtanium were used to contain and direct the energy of the matter-antimatter annihilation which propels ships like ISV Venture Star.
Like Avatar's Unobtanium, the real-world Niobium has assumed huge importance in plans for the next round of linear colliders that may soon unlock some of the most profound secrets of the Universe and spacetime. The current generation of ring colliders, including Fermilab's Tevatron and Europe's newly operating Large Hadron Collider, use thousands of niobium-titanium superconducting magnets to steer and focus their beams of charged particles, which travel in great loops before being steered into collisions that can reveal fundamental properties of matter. Cavities are a small part of these machines, providing a momentary push to the particles each time they orbit the ring.
But linear colliders, including Stanford's current linear accelerator, Fermilab's proposed Project X, and the proposed ILC, string together thousands of cavities into one long line. The resulting linear accelerator creates an immense electric field to push the particle beams toward their collision in a single pass, without any need for steering and recirculating them.
Will niobium and the success of Project X and CERN's LHC lead to profound advances in 21st Century physics and our understanding of the universe?
Cameron's fictional Unobtanium was not only the key to Earth’s energy needs in the 22nd century, but was the enabler of interstellar travel and the establishment of a truly spacefaring civilization.Casey Kazan via University of Chicago