Over the past year, the field of superconductors has been marred by a series of astonishing claims, skepticism, and subsequent retractions. The latest retraction comes from Nature, one of the world’s top scientific journals, which has retracted a study that claimed to have created a room-temperature superconductor. The study involved using hydrogen, lutetium, and nitrogen to achieve this feat. This retraction adds to the ongoing turmoil in the field, which has seen failures to replicate, accusations of misconduct, and social media controversies.
When the study was initially published in March of this year, it was met with a mix of excitement and suspicion. The peer-reviewed results were covered by various scientific publications, including ScienceAlert. If the findings had been verified, it could have paved the way for specialized electrical systems that operate efficiently with zero resistance, requiring minimal cooling. Although the initial setup would have required significant pressure, this breakthrough could have benefitted fusion reactors and MRI machines. However, some experts found the claims too good to be true – and they were proven right.
Experts who had concerns about “the reliability of the electrical resistance data presented in the paper” reached out to Nature. After conducting an investigation, the journal determined that these concerns were credible and substantial, remaining unresolved. As a result, Nature retracted the study. Interestingly, eight of the study’s 11 authors also sent a letter to the journal requesting the retraction. They expressed that the published paper did not accurately represent the materials, the experimental measurements, and the data-processing protocols. In their letter, they distanced themselves from the research leader, physicist Ranga Dias, accusing him of not acting in good faith during the preparation and submission of the manuscript.
This is not the first retraction for Dias and his team. In fact, this is the second time in two years that a paper on room-temperature superconductors by Dias and another team member has been retracted by Nature. Their previous claim of creating a high-temperature superconductor using carbonaceous sulfur hydride was also retracted last year. Additionally, another paper co-authored by Dias and his colleague, Ashkan Salamat, was retracted from Physical Review Letters in August. Dias, who filed a patent for his latest discovery, has raised significant funding from investors through his company, Unearthly Materials. He has yet to respond to the retractions.
Further allegations have been made against Dias, suggesting that around 20 percent of his PhD thesis was plagiarized. Science has published a detailed analysis illustrating the extent of the issue. In response to the retraction in August, the University of Rochester, where Dias is a professor of mechanical engineering and physics, launched an investigation into the matter.
Adding to the ongoing skepticism in the field, the LK-99 controversy caused a social media frenzy in August. Preprints had suggested that this material could also be a room-temperature superconductor. However, when numerous replication attempts failed, experts had to conclude that the material did not possess the properties promised.
The field of superconductors has been plagued by a series of staggering claims, skepticism, and retractions. The retraction of a study claiming to have created a room-temperature superconductor adds to the growing doubts surrounding these extraordinary scientific breakthroughs. With concerns about data reliability, allegations of plagiarism, and a troubled track record, experts remain cautious about accepting these claims at face value. The pursuit of room-temperature superconductors continues, but it is clear that extensive scrutiny and replication attempts are necessary to ensure the credibility of such groundbreaking discoveries.