Students studying superconductors build magnetic levitation and suspension demonstrations.  All the tracks were built at Ithaca College!

Research on superconductivity is conducted in the Low Temperature Laboratory in the Physics Department at Ithaca College.  This lab, headed by Matthew C. Sullivan, focuses on the study of the properties of the new high-temperature superconductors. These superconductors, with transition temperatures above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (with some as high as 130 K, or -225 °F), have been the source of intense research since their discovery in 1986.

Our research is based primarily on electronic transport measurements (resistivity, Hall effect, etc.) in different superconducting materials, both in a magnetic field and in zero magnetic field.  We study the normal-to-superconducting phase transition in bulk single crystal superconductors and thin-film superconductors grown on an insulating substrate. In addition to electronic transport, we also study other properties of the materials, such as specific heat and magnetic susceptibility.

Students in the Low-Temperature Lab in the Physics Department at Ithaca College have studied the phase transition in the electron-doped cuprates. We also work to expand general knowledge and understanding of superconductors using levitation and suspension demonstrations.  These demonstrations are built by Ithaca College students and the superconductors grown here at Ithaca College -- you can see some of our demonstrations on YouTube: A straight track and a figure-8 track

Our research in superconductivity is funded by the National Science Foundation and Ithaca College.  We collaborate with several other institutions in this work.  Our thin-film samples and high quality single crystals are grown by our students during the summer at the Center for Nanophysics and Advanced Materials in the Physics Department at the University of Maryland, the home of exciting developments in new materials at the nanoscale.  Our thin films are photolithographically patterned by IC students at the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, a world-class academic clean room processing facility.

Current Projects

Interactive Quantum Levitation Demonstration

Matt Sullivan

Ithaca College Physics and Astronomy students have successfully created many visually stunning demonstrations of flux-pinned superconductors – so called quantum levitation - on our Flat TrackLooped Track, and bius Strip Track.  Now is the time to step up our game and create demonstrations that you can not only see but also interact with.  This is an engineering project that will include the 3D printers and measurements of mechanical properties of the systems in question.

Tolman-Stewart Experiment

Seeing the unseen

Matt Sullivan

In 1916, Richard Tolman and Dale Stewart spun a coil of wire to high speeds and showed that electrons carry the current inside metals.  A century of technological advances have made data collection easier thanks to the advent of modern electronics, but at the same time has buried the electrons’ motion underneath the ambient electrical noise inherent in any modern building.  Can we use the tools and skills available in an undergraduate physics lab to detect the motion of the electrons in copper wire – without applying a voltage?

Encapsulating 21st Century Physics

Matt Sullivan

For nearly 400 years, experiment and theory have been the pillars of physics.  In the 21st century, computer simulations are as important as theory and experiment, and can often explore physical situations that neither theory nor experiment can access.  This research project uses a simple system – heat flowing in a metal rod – to explore all three pillars of 21st century physics.

Here is a quick tour of the Low Temperature Physics Lab and the Materials Science Facility!  Undergraduate students work with all the equipment shown here!

Members of the Team

Collaborating Institutions