Superconductivity is the ability of certain materials to conduct electric current with practically zero resistance. This capacity produces interesting and potentially useful effects. For a material to behave as a superconductor, low temperatures are required.
Superconductivity was first observed in 1911 by H. K. Onnes, a Dutch physicist. His experiment was conducted with elemental mercury at 4 degrees kelvin (approximately -452 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature of liquid helium. Since then, some substances have been made to act as superconductors at higher temperatures, although the ideal -- a material that can superconduct at room temperature -- remains elusive.
Superconductors have been employed in, or proposed for use in, an enormous variety of applications. Examples include high-speed magnetic-levitation trains, magnetic-resonance-imaging (MRI) equipment, ultra-high-speed computer chips, high-capacity digital memory chips, alternative energy storage systems, radio-frequency (RF) filters, radio-frequency amplifiers, sensitive visible-light and infrared detectors, miniaturized wireless transmitting antennas, systems to detect submarines and underwater mines, and gyroscopes for earth-orbiting satellites. The Josephson junction and the superconducting quantum interference device use superconductors.