November 30, 2023
US team withdraws bombshell superconductor study after Chinese researchers challenge findings

US team withdraws bombshell superconductor study after Chinese researchers challenge findings

The scientific magazine Nature retracted a controversial article that claimed to have created a room-temperature superconducting material, which the Chinese scientists took the initiative to try to reproduce – and in which they raised strong doubts.

Earlier this year, the article made global headlines in both mainstream media and social media after being published in one of the oldest and most prestigious scientific journals.

But in a Nov. 7 retraction notice, eight of the paper’s 11 authors, most of them from the University of Rochester in New York, requested the research be withdrawn because it “does not accurately reflect the provenance of the materials investigated, the measurements experiments carried out and data processing protocols applied”.

This means that the study’s key data was manipulated and that the observed superconductivity was an experimental artifact, according to Dirk van der Marel, honorary professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

“This means that there were serious problems with this article and that the material is not a superconductor at room temperature,” said physicist Jorge Hirsch of the University of California, San Diego. “These co-authors did the right thing, which takes courage.”


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While unsuccessful replication While the efforts alone failed to overturn the U.S. team’s claim, they played an important role in casting doubt on the reported findings, Hirsch and van der Marel told the Post in an email.

“Several groups in China played a leading role in this,” Hirsch said. “This encouraged the paper’s co-authors to report the anomalies they knew about.”

The attention given to the paper “accelerated the decision to correct the scientific record,” said van der Marel, who also serves as editor-in-chief of the journal Physica C: Superconductivity and its Applications.

Nature previously told the Post that it viewed replication attempts as an extremely important part of the scientific process. “An inherent principle of publishing is that others are able to replicate and build on the authors’ published claims,” said a representative.

Karl Ziemelis, editor-in-chief of physical sciences at Nature, wrote in an email to the Post that the retraction had been “a deeply frustrating situation.” He said the original paper submission received “a number of questions” from expert reviewers, but these were largely resolved in subsequent reviews.

China-led test raises doubts about US ‘room temperature’ superconductor

“What the peer review process cannot detect is whether the article written accurately reflects the research as it was conducted,” he said. “It is not uncommon for other issues to come to light after publication, at which point articles receive an even greater degree of technical scrutiny from the broader community.”

Nature raised separate concerns about the paper’s data and carried out investigations to conclude that the concerns were “credible,” the retraction note said.

Since superconductivity was first discovered in 1911, scientists have been looking for different materials that transport electricity with zero resistance. These materials could potentially revolutionize the efficiency of electrical grids, computer chips, medical imaging and high-speed trains.

Until now, superconductors only work under very low temperatures (close to absolute zero) or extremely high pressures (above a million Earth atmospheres). Room temperature superconductors are seen as the Scientific Holy Grail to make practical applications a reality.

In their paper published by Nature in March, the University of Rochester team led by Ranga Dias surprised the world by announcing that they had used hydrogen, lutetium and nitrogen to develop a compound that became a superconductor at about 21 degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit). ).

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In the weeks that followed, several laboratories in China moved quickly to synthesize samples according to the paper’s descriptions and test the reported findings. All his attempts failed.

A team from the Beijing Institute of Physics only managed to achieve superconductivity at minus 203 degrees Celsius in their experiment. A separate group from the same institute said they reproduced the color changes reported by the US team, but no superconductivity was observed, down to minus 271 degrees Celsius.

This is not the first time that Dias’ team has removed articles from top-tier journals. In 2020, his team claimed to have created a new material by adding carbon to hydrogen sulfide, which turned out to be a superconductor at 15 degrees Celsius. This article was retracted by Nature in 2022.

Hirsch said repeated retractions could cast a negative light on superconductivity research, specifically in a field known as pressure hydrides. This is because researchers in this field often do not disclose the background subtraction procedures they use and are often reluctant to provide details and raw data underlying their published results.

“But I don’t think the retractions should affect the reputation of the entire field of superconductivity research, which is strong and healthy,” Hirsch said.

Van der Marel highlighted the trust factor. “The fact that scientists commit fraud doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in science. The fact that some of these frauds have been revealed makes up for that, but only partially,” he said.

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