Superconductor Science Projects

Please note that our superconductor kits are no longer available.  We are leaving the information below online, because much of it is still revelant for those contemplating superconductor science fair projects.

Our superconductor kits were designed for use by science instructors in universities and high schools.  The information below was for students and parents who were considering purchasing our kits directly.

Many people are interested in using superconductor kits in science projects for school assignments or science fairs.  These projects can be very successful, but there are some potential pitfalls.  We must say again that Futurescience no longer producing superconductor kits.

The majority of the customers who contacted us in the past about school science projects or science fairs were looking for a project with a very short time frame.  We have found that nearly everyone who allows plenty of time for a superconductor project has a very satisfying experience.  On the other hand, those who attempt a rushed superconductor project nearly always experience numerous frustrations.  This is especially true for those who are not familiar with the process of obtaining and handling liquid nitrogen.

One problem is that it often takes a few days to locate a source for obtaining liquid nitrogen locally and to become familiar with safely handling liquid nitrogen.  Liquid nitrogen is widely used and available nearly everywhere, even in rural areas, but locating a local source is sometimes very time-consuming.

We are often asked if we can supply liquid nitrogen.  Many people do not realize that liquid nitrogen can only be shipped in tanker trucks especially designed for cryogenic shipments.  Although these trucks are common, they are only available for very large shipments.  There is no feasible way to ship small amounts of liquid nitrogen.

If you do not have a container made for holding liquid nitrogen, we have found that a vented 2-liter Stainless Steel Thermos works very well. It is imperative that the Thermos have a hole drilled in the lid to vent the gas from the boiling liquid nitrogen inside.  If a hole is not drilled in the lid, the pressure inside the Thermos will build up to dangerous levels, and a serious explosion could result.  A 1/4-inch (6 mm.) diameter hole is usually adequate.  If the vent hole is too small, it may become clogged with frost.

Liquid nitrogen is just about as dangerous as boiling water, and for all the same reasons.  Like boiling water, liquid nitrogen can be handled quite safely if common sense precautions are taken.  Like boiling water, getting a few drops on your skin will not cause serious injury, but any prolonged contact can cause VERY serious injury.  Like boiling water, liquid nitrogen is always boiling and must never be confined in a sealed container.  Items immersed in liquid nitrogen, like items immersed in boiling water, must be allowed to return to room temperature before they are touched.

Do not use a fiberglass Thermos for liquid nitrogen since the fiberglass is likely to crack under the sudden thermal stress.  A one-liter Stainless Steel Thermos may be used, but a vented one-liter Thermos will usually only hold liquid nitrogen for 8 to 12 hours before it all boils away.  A vented 2-liter Stainless Steel Thermos will usually hold the liquid nitrogen for 24 to 48 hours.

Another problem with doing a superconductor project on short notice is that it was usually difficult for us to accommodate rush orders.  We often tried to accommodate rush orders with overnight shipments, but the process for making superconductors is a very long one.  YBCO superconductors require baking in the lab furnace for many days.  The time in the furnace is only part of the processing time.  If we did not have the product on the shelf ready for shipment, we could not rush the process of making more of the superconductors.

If you allow plenty of time for a superconductor project, you can even make superconductors yourself from scratch.  See our suggestions for Making Superconductors in a High School Science Lab.  These instructions are based are several actual experiences in making superconductors as a school science project.  Although the process is straightforward, it is also very unique and time-consuming.  Allow yourself a few weeks for preparation before attempting to make superconductors yourself.

Note: Be sure to keep the superconducting disks and rings out of the reach of small children.  The superconducting material can be hazardous if swallowed since stomach acid reacts with the material to form toxic barium chloride.

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