One hundred years after superconductivity was first observed in 1911, a research team from Oxford, Germany and Japan observed conclusive signatures of superconductivity after hitting a non-superconductor with a strong burst of laser light. The material the researchers used is closely related to high-temperature copper oxide superconductors, but the arrangement of electrons and atoms normally act to frustrate any electronic current. In the journal ‘Science’, they describe how a strong infrared laser pulse was used to perturb the positions of some of the atoms in the material. The compound, held at a temperature just 20 degrees above absolute zero, almost instantaneously became a superconductor for a fraction of a second, before relaxing back to its normal state. The advance immediately offers a new way to probe with great control how superconductivity arises in this class of materials, a puzzle ever since high-temperature superconductors were first discovered in 1986. The researchers however, are hopeful it could also offer a new route to obtaining superconductivity at higher temperatures. If superconductors that work at room temperature could be achieved, it would open up many more technological applications. “There is a school of thought that it should be possible to achieve superconductivity at much higher temperatures, but that some competing type of order in the material gets in the way, we should be able to explore this idea and see if we can disrupt the competing order to reveal superconductivity at higher temperatures. It’s certainly worth trying,” said Professor Andrea Cavalleri of the Department of Physics at Oxford University, who led the experiment.