The energy equivalent of several kilograms of TNT surged into the coil, bathing the 0.003-carat crystal in its bore in one of the strongest magnetic fields ever generated.
From the magnet came a small boom like the sound of a foot stomping, said engineer Jérôme Béard—but thankfully, no explosion. His calculations held up.
With that magnetic blast and a subsequent series of identical ones executed last winter, researchers at the National Laboratory for Intense Magnetic Fields (LNCMI) in Toulouse, France, uncovered a key property of the crystal, a matte-black ceramic in a class of materials called cuprates that are the most potent superconductors known. The findings, reported this week in the journal Nature, provide a major clue about the inner workings of cuprates, and may help scientists understand how these materials allow electricity to flow freely at relatively high temperatures.