A place to relax, enjoy some coffee and cookies, and explore ideas about our physical universe... for science and non-science types!




2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of superconductivity.  Since their discovery, these unique materials have grown quickly from an unexplained laboratory phenomenon to one of the greatest successes of quantum physics, and superconductors are now staples of modern industry.  Superconductors are used in hospitals in MRI magnets, they are being used to replace old power lines in New York City and to improve emergency generators, and engineers have discussed using them for magnetic levitation trains!  The catch?  They have to be super-cold, below 93 K (-292 F).  But what is it that makes superconductors behave the way they do?   Come and join IC Physics professor Matthew C. Sullivan as he discusses the super in superconductors.

Superconductors have fascinated physicists since their discovery nearly 100 years ago in 1911, and the explanation of how they superconduct became one of the earliest and greatest triumphs of quantum physics in 1957.  In order to get a material to superconduct, it has to be very cold; the first discovered superconductor, mercury, becomes a superconductor at 4.2 K (-451 F).   By the late 1970s and early 1980s, most physicists assumed we knew all there was to know about superconductors, and because the highest temperature of any known superconductor was 23 K (-418 F), superconductors remained a physicist’s laboratory curiosity.   Then in 1986, a new type of superconductor was discovered, one that superconducts above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (77 K, or -321 F).  Suddenly, superconducting phenomena became more widely accessible through fascinating levitation demonstrations, and when we looked, we suddenly found that more and more materials can superconduct.

In this talk Dr. Sullivan will discuss the “super” in superconductors and describe some of their amazing properties, including the two hallmarks of zero electrical resistance and magnetic levitation and suspension.  He will discuss the history of superconductors and what we have discovered about superconductivity since 1986, and finally discuss the prospect of room-temperature superconductors.  Dr. Sullivan will also bring superconductors to life with demonstrations of levitation, suspension, and MagLev trains.






The Physics Café is a campus-wide lecture series sponsored by the Physics Department of Ithaca College.   The idea is to grab and hold the attention of science and non-science majors by offering talks on exciting and accessible current topics in physics.   Past Café lectures have featured the time-warping properties of black holes, the exploration of planet Mars, the communication of elephants, and remote sensing of archaeological sites.   The talks are presented in a café environment, where coffee is served and students and physicists can informally discuss new ideas.

The Physics Café regularly draws between 100 and 250 students from IC, so together with the 200-300 teachers from the Bureau event, we expect to attract a total audience of around 300 to 550 people.

Each talk in the Physics Café series is presented by a world-class expert.   These speakers are known for their abilities to communicate with non-scientific audiences, and have won awards for their efforts to engage the public in our search for a physical understanding of the Universe.

The lecture is free and open to the public. There are no pre-requisites!   No requirements!   Everyone is welcome!   Starbucks coffee (caffeinated and decaf.) will be served, along with cookies and biscuits.   An informal talk-back session with the speaker will immediately follow the presentation.

  • For more information on our speaker, please see Matthew C. Sullivan Ithaca College physics department.
Matt Sullivan

Contact: Professor Beth Ellen Clark Joseph
Center for Natural Sciences, Room 267
607 274 3968


Read about former Physics Café Talks here:
  2008-2009: Achieving Carbon Neutrality: It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities
  2007-2008: Searching for Extra-terrestrial Life: Molecules, UFOs, and Little Green Men
  2006-2007: Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality?
  2005-2006: Visualizing Complex Electronic Quantum Matter - A Voyage of Exploration and Discovery
  2004-2005: Whose Line is it Anyway? -- How We Know that Space and Time are Curved
  Fall 2004: Seeing Beneath the Soil
  Spring 2004: The Elephant Seismic Project
  Fall 2003: Black Holes: Small, Medium, and Huge
  Spring 2003: Mars Mission

Read the Press Releases about the Physics Cafe here:
  September 18, 2003
September 08, 2003
August 25, 2003
February 03, 2003
January 01, 2003
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Pages written by Michael Rogers and updated on 03-Feb-2006 at the Ithaca College Physics Department in Ithaca, NY..