The startup claims it’s on the cusp of a breakthrough in superconductors, despite questionable scientific data
Since she were discovered more than 100 years ago, superconductors seemed a bit magical.
You may have seen one on YouTube, floating above a puddle of liquid nitrogen, enveloped in vapor as the super-cooled seventh element boils. Or maybe you’ve been in a much larger chamber that was cooled by liquid helium and generated massive magnetic and radio waves that allowed doctors to see inside your body as part of an MRI.
Even with their delicate temperature requirements, superconductors have become major players in science, medicine and technology. So you can imagine the excitement when earlier this month a team of scientists led by Ranga Dias, a professor at the University of Rochester in New York, claimed in a paper that they had created a room-temperature superconductor, one that has the same magical properties at 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact.
If the claims are true and if scientists can further refine the product, it could become a truly transformative technology. Fusion reactors, which rely on superconducting magnets to enclose the red-hot plasma, would get smaller and cheaper. The power grid would be transformed, as lossless superconductors would make transcontinental power lines a reality. Maglev trains may no longer be the butt of jokes and become a real alternative to air travel.
To capitalize on their research, Dias and Ashkan Salamat, co-author of the paper, founded a company called unearthly materials.
I recently came across a YouTube recording of a virtual lecture Dias gave to a Sri Lankan scientific society and university in which he claimed to have raised a $1 million seed round and a $20 million Series A for Unearthly Materials.
In his presentation, Dias also claimed to have prominent investors. The $1 million starting round included Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, Daniel Ek of Spotify, Dolby chairman Peter Gotcher and Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus. Series A included Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Open AI’s Sam Altman; Ek and Hinrikus followed.
although it website is reserve, and LinkedIn lists only six employees, Unearthly Materials isn’t exactly a secret. But at the same time, the company is not tracked on PitchBook and does not appear on Crunchbase. It’s unusual for a highly publicized startup to raise $20 million without writing a blog post or issuing a press release.
Holy grail of materials science