What an LK-99 Superconductor Might Do to Your iPhone

Social media is super-excited by the potential scientific breakthrough. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

| Updated on: Aug 05 2023, 09:26 IST
iPhone 15
LK-99 is heralded as a room-temperature superconductor that, could transform the world (Unsplash)
iPhone 15
LK-99 is heralded as a room-temperature superconductor that, could transform the world (Unsplash)

Superconductivity: Science vs. Social Media: The breathlessness that's greeted a new material made of lead and copper is, well, breathtaking. LK-99 is heralded as a room-temperature superconductor that, if it survives the barrage of peer reviews, could transform the world as we know it. Everything from electricity to transportation to medicine to chip technology might get more efficient and affordable. At the end of a nerdy tweet, Ming-Chi Kuo, an influential analyst at TF International Securities in Taiwan, declared, “Even a mobile device as small as an iPhone can have a computing power comparable to a quantum computer.”

Investors immediately dove into companies — mostly in South Korea and China — that had anything to do with the business of new compounds. Some South Koreans were already looking forward to Nobel Prizes being awarded to compatriots who discovered LK-99 (their surnames are Lee and Kim, and they came up with it separately in 1999).

OK. Now take a breath. Or two.

Superconductivity exists (Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists who have studied it). But materials that achieve it — that is, eliminate magnetic fields and have 100% efficiency in conducting electricity — can perform the process only at extremely low temperatures. Think sub-180 Celsius (-292 Fahrenheit). That's commercially impractical. Hence the excitement about LK-99 achieving superconductivity at room temperature. But all the hype needs to be tempered by a lot. Tim Culpan writes, “Social media means these developments become talking points and memes even among those who barely understand the concepts. … The rush to publish, discuss, criticize and tear apart new discoveries works in conflict with the slow and deliberate nature of scientific research.”

Tim's not asking us to stop dreaming. “LK-99 may not end up being the room-temperature superconductor we all hope for. But perhaps these findings, and renewed excitement, will lead to other advances that offer high-speed, energy-efficient trains, viable and cheap quantum supercomputers, and highly-scalable batteries to store renewable energy. … Let's embrace the excitement around LK-99, but not pin our hopes on it. The scientific journey is as valuable as the final result, and that's worth celebrating no matter the individual outcomes.”

Fine. I'm just going to worry about what an LK-99 iPhone is going to cost me.

The Japan That Can Say “Welcome, Immigrants!”

Among the many stereotypes about Japan, the one that economists like to bring up is the country's resistance to immigration. Homogeneity has always been considered a national strength. But it is going to be debilitating as the country ages rapidly and its population shrinks. Wouldn't allowing foreigners to live and work in the country help avoid that crisis?

Gearoid Reidy says that Japan is already getting started on that very solution — and the latest population statistics bear it out. He writes: “The number of foreigners rose 11% from a year earlier to comprise 2.4% of the total population, or just under 3 million people; as the figures are from Jan. 1, that milestone has now likely already been passed. It often goes unremarked that the number of workers from overseas has more than doubled in the last decade alone, while the broader foreign community (including students and families) has risen 50%.”

There are lots of impediments — wages, language, assimilation and, yes, residual but tenacious xenophobia. But that's begun to change, starting from the most august of levels. Back in 2001, Emperor Akihito publicly acknowledged that he had a Korean ancestor. That was remarkable considering the discrimination that Koreans in Japan have faced for centuries. The imperial family goes back at least 1,500 years; it is, for many Japanese, still the symbol of nationhood. Akihito abdicated in 2019 and was succeeded by his son Naruhito. People like to point out, politely, that the imperial ancestor he admitted to — a descendant of a Korean king who lived briefly on the Japanese island of Kyushu — lived in the 8th century. Still, no matter how far back, if the most Japanese family in Japan has a tincture of immigrant blood, the country can get used to more immigrants.

Telltale Charts

“If Niger falls into the Russian orbit, the world would depend even more on Moscow — and its clients — for atomic energy. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, two former Soviet republics, are among the world's top uranium producers, accounting for about 50% of the world's mined supply. Add Russia and Niger to that, and the share jumps to just above 60%.” — Javier Blas in “ The Long Arm of the Kremlin and the Politics of Uranium.”

“The US lags China, South Korea and Japan in some of the most important components of lithium-ion battery production. With just 4.4% of global cell capacity, and at single-digit shares of separators, electrolytes, cathodes and anodes, the world's largest economy is a long way from EV self-sufficiency.” — Tim Culpan in “America Is Driving Toward a New Supply Chain Crisis.”

“Bud Light has struggled since controversy erupted over its Instagram partnership with transgender influencer and actor Dylan Mulvaney in April. Bud Light has since fallen from the top spot as the best-selling beer by dollar sales in the US, giving up the title to Constellation Brands Inc.'s Modelo.” — Andrea Felsted in “The Bud Light Hangover Hasn't Gone Away.”

Further Reading

Harvard should stop it with the nepo babies. — Adrian Wooldridge

The Swiss banking merger that has lots of Asian holes. — Shuli Ren

Does Rishi Sunak really believe more oil drilling is good for the planet? — Lara Williams

Russia's new nuclear strategy is still the old kind of scary. — Andreas Kluth

The deep money problems of Britain's health system. — The Editors

White guys can't cook everything. — Howard Chua-Eoan

Walk of the Town: Texas Hold'em in London

In mid-July, I wrote about how the super-rich were sweeping up talent — like chefs — to work for them privately. A friend I hadn't heard from for a year called me to say she was in town, accompanying her new boss, a very successful professional gambler who'd flown into town on a private jet to participate in the London circuit of the World Series of Poker. Looking for something new to write about, I walked down Park Lane to the competition venue — the JW Marriott Grosvenor House. The hotel shares the name (as well as the site) of the legendary townhouse of the Grosvenor clan, the family of the Duke of Westminster. But the original was torn down in the 1920s.

I wanted to catch a glimpse of the high roller lifestyle. As it turned out, it's a lot of hoodies and T-shirts and sneakers. Perhaps it was because most of the participants that I watched were in a Texas Hold'em tournament where the buy-in was a mere £450 ($570). But even the super high-rollers seemed super casual. These are the folks who can afford buy-ins upwards of £10,500 (for pots worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more) and are separated from the rest by a wall, playing on tables in a shiny set prepped for TV cameras. There was one person in a sleeveless hoodie made of shiny blue suede. Their food was delivered by servers. The regular rollers had to walk up to the coffee shop for food and drinks (noodles, candy, water, coffee and lots of Red Bull). Oh, they could also call on the services of a masseur, who'd come to the table to rub down necks and shoulders tired from hours of hunched down gaming.

We use a lot of card game expressions in daily life — chip in, full deck, poker face etc. Lots have been said about traders and poker. Is there more that Texas Hold'em can say about the world beyond the gaming tables? The subject may yet supply a future column.

Weekender: The Cruelest Month in Paris

August is a conundrum for food lovers in the French capital. After this weekend, some of the best restaurants will be on summer break until September. If you had your heart set on Septime and Maison Sota in the 11th arrondissement, you're out of luck. The first won't reopen till Aug. 23; the second not until Sept. 1. In the same area, Bistrot Paul Bert — much celebrated by Anthony Bourdain — won't reopen till the 23rd either. However, if you're a fan of Chef Iñaki Aizpitarte's Le Chateaubriand, it will not be closing. My friend and journalist Wendy Lyn (@parisismykitchen) has a helpful list of her favorite restaurants and whether they are open this season. She particularly likes Café les Deux Gares in the 10th, which is open all summer.

If you're stuck for a spot, there's always Breizh, a crêperie. It's become a global chain, yet is still distinctively French. Head for the original in Le Marais and try the savory buckwheat galette with ham and comté cheese, topped with an egg and a small slab of espelette butter. It'll settle you down, if only for a while.


You've reached the end. Aw shucks, here's a doodle as a “thank you” for hanging on!

Howard Chua-Eoan is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering culture and business. He previously served as Bloomberg Opinion's international editor and is a former news director at Time magazine.



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First Published Date: 05 Aug, 06:30 IST
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