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article imageStudent boosts electrical conductivity by 40,000 percent

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By Tim Sandle     Nov 15, 2013 in Science
A simple lab error has uncovered a new way to boost electrical conductivity of a crystal by 40,000 percent. The discovery came after some crystals were unintentionally exposed to light.
Student Marianne Tarun made her incredible discovery by accident, Gizmodo reports. Tarun was working in her laboratory at Washington State University (WSU), as part of her doctoral studies, when she accidentally left a sample of the crystalline compound strontium titanate out on a counter, exposing the crystal to light. Strontium titanate is an oxide of strontium and titanium.
Tarun weighed up whether to test the crystal's conductivity and decided to go ahead. She was pleased that she did, for she found that she had accelerated the ability of the crystal to conduct electricity by an amazing 40,000 percent. Talking to SciTech, Tarun said: "It came by accident, it’s not something we expected. That makes it very exciting to share."
Discussing the issue with her colleagues, Tarun has deduced that photons knock loose electrons which boost the material's conductivity. This is an effect called 'photoconductivity'. One of the advantages of the discovery is that the crystal will work at room temperature, unlike other materials which are similarly exceptional conductors.
This ability could be of great use for the next generation of computers, Matthew McCluskey, Tarun's supervisor explained to the WSU website. Dr. McCluskey notes: "The discovery of this effect at room temperature opens up new possibilities for practical devices. These diverse properties provide a fascinating playground for scientists."
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