A few short weeks ago, the world was taken aback by claims of a room-temperature superconductor—a scientific finding that could redefine modern physics as we know it. Those claims turned out to be bunk, and a South Korean university is investigating a complaint made against the professor who published them in a paper.
Bloomberg reports that Korea University is specifically investigating a complaint that Young-Wan Kwon published the paper about the superconductor breakthrough without the permission of his co-authors. Kwon uploaded a pre-print manuscript describing the superconductor, called LK-99, to Cornell University’s arXiv server at the end of July. Now, a Korea University official has told Bloomberg that the case warranted an immediate probe, which should take approximately six months.
Kwon and Korea University’s Graduate School of Converging Science and Technology, of which Kwon is a faculty member, did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment on the investigation.
According to arXiv, Kwon uploaded the paper to the repository on July 22 with co-authors Sukbae Lee and Ji-Hoon Kim. A few hours later, Lee and Kim uploaded another paper to arXiv with four other co-authors—Kwon was noticeably missing from the byline. Kim Hyun Tak, a professor of physics at the College of William & Mary, reportedly told Bloomberg earlier this month that the group uploaded the second paper as a response to Kwon uploading the original manuscript.
LK-99 is a synthesized compound of copper, lead, phosphorous, and oxygen, that the researchers claimed would serve as a superconductor up to temperatures of 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 degrees Celsius). As Nature notes, attempts by other scientists to recreate the material and its abilities were not fruitful.
Regardless, the scientific community was inspired by the latest prospect for a room-temperature semiconductor, which could have dramatic consequences on our world’s power supply. A superconductor is a material that can conduct an electrical current without that current encountering any resistance. Typically, superconductors require incredibly low temperatures and exceedingly high pressures which makes them incredibly difficult to utilize outside of a laboratory setting. A room-temperature superconductor could therefore revolutionize everything from our energy grids to our public transportation by making electrical conductance more efficient.
Kwon, Lee, and Kim’s paper is not the only room-temperature superconductor drama the physics community has had to deal with this year. In March, a research team at the University of Rochester claimed that they had developed a room-temperature superconductor in a paper published in Nature. The New York Times reported yesterday that that paper is being retracted from the journal, while one of the paper’s authors faces an investigation and growing allegations of research misconduct.