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The significance of LK-99 and the "Room-Temperature Superconductor"
If you’re not as immersed in the daily drama of science and engineering as our team at Also Capital, we’ve got you covered here! Last week, scientists affiliated with several South Korean institutions claimed to have synthesized the first room-temperature/ambient-pressure superconducting material.1 It sounds like science-fiction, but I promise you this discovery, if validated and scalable, would have an impact on your daily life rivaled only by the discovery of the transistor at Bell Labs in 1947.
Andrew Cote had a viral Twitter thread where he covered a number of the practical implications of this discovery, including its potential to enable high-speed maglev trains that could take you from NYC to LA in 20 minutes, 100% carbon-free. Here’s an image from Andrew’s thread highlighting a few of the things in our daily lives that would be impacted by the successful commercialization of room-temperature superconductors.
When the discovery was announced, some ambitious engineers began a replication crusade, most notably our dear friend and Varda Space Industries Head of R&D, Andrew McCalip. Andrew has led the Varda team’s weekend effort at replicating the South Korean researchers’ results, live Tweeting and Twitch streaming their progress. Suffice it to say Andrew and the team’s effort and authenticity set Twitter on fire, with millions of views on his tweets and his following growing from <1,000 to over 50K in a matter of days. The team’s work was featured in Vice with more features still to come.
This morning, it seemed we had our first successful replication, and the prediction market results reflected it, with Polymarket showing a 41% chance that the results were real (up from 20% after the first paper was published last week).2
Regardless of the outcome of these attempts at replication, it’s clear that this work has invigorated and united large numbers of scientists and engineers hell-bent on seeing something they never thought possible in their lifetimes. That gives me energy! It’s also become a bit of a Rorschach test for whether someone views themselves as an academic scientist focused on methods and paper publishing or someone who takes action despite the odds because it’s more fun to do so. If you’re the latter, give us a call :)