Bednorz, Johannes Georg (1950-), a German-born physicist, shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1987 with Karl Alexander Müller for their discovery of ceramic substances that are superconductive at temperatures higher than what metals could reach to become superconductive.
In 1982, the year Bednorz received his Ph.D. degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he joined the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory. There he joined the research effort of Müller, who was studying superconductors. Superconductors are materials that allow electrical current to flow without resistance. Scientists already knew that metals, such as lead and mercury, become good superconductors at temperatures near absolute zero, or -459.67 °F (-273.15 °C). No one had found a superconductor at a temperature higher than 23 K (degrees above absolute zero). Like other scientists, Bednorz and Müller were in search of new materials that would be superconductive at higher temperatures.
In 1983, Bednorz and Müller began methodically testing ceramic materials made with mixtures of metal called oxides. Bednorz's respönsibility was the preparation and testing of the oxides. On Jan. 27, 1986, their research paid off. They discovered that a barium-lanthanum-copper oxide achieved superconductivity at 35 K (-316 °F; -238 °C), a substantial improvement over the highest temperature at which superconductivity had been found in any other material. The following year, a team at the University of Houston achieved superconductivity in similar ceramics at 90 K. At that temperature, the ceramic superconductors could be cooled by liquid nitrogen, which is not only less expensive than liquid helium but also safer and easier to make.
Just under two years after their discovery, Bednorz and Müller were awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in physics. Their research did not explain the theory behind the behavior of ceramic superconductors, but it did provide an important breakthrough in the search for practical superconductors.