A technique for making superconducting joints between wires made of dissimilar superconducting metals has been devised. The technique is especially suitable for fabrication of superconducting circuits needed to support persistent electric currents in electromagnets in diverse cryogenic applications. Examples of such electromagnets include those in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems and in superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs).

One or More Wire(s) can be spark-welded to the inside of a tube made by rolling a piece of Nb foil.
Sometimes, it is desirable to fabricate different parts of a persistent-current-supporting superconducting loop from different metals. For example, a sensory coil in a SQUID might be made of Pb, a Pb/Sn alloy, or a Cu wire plated with Pb/Sn, while the connections to the sensory coil might be made via Nb or Nb/Ti wires. Conventional wire-bonding techniques, including resistance spot welding and pressed contact, are not workable because of large differences between the hardnesses and melting temperatures of the different metals. The present technique is not subject to this limitation.

The present technique involves the use (1) of a cheap, miniature, easy-to-operate, capacitor-discharging welding apparatus that has an Nb or Nb/Ti tip and operates with a continuous local flow of gaseous helium and (2) preparation of a joint in a special spark-discharge welding geometry. In a typical application, a piece of Nb foil about 25 μm thick is rolled to form a tube, into which is inserted a wire that one seeks to weld to the tube (see figure). The tube can be slightly crimped for mechanical stability. Then a spark weld is made by use of the aforementioned apparatus with energy and time settings chosen to melt a small section of the niobium foil. The energy setting corresponds to the setting of a voltage to which the capacitor is charged.

In an experiment, the technique was used to weld an Nb foil to a copper wire coated with a Pb/Sn soft solder, which is superconducting. The joint was evaluated as part of a persistent-current circuit having an inductance of 1 mH. A current was induced in a loop, and no attenuation of the current after a time interval 1,000 s was discernible in a measurement having a fractional accuracy of 10–4: This observation supports the conclusion that the weld had an electrical resistance <10–10 Ω.

This work was done by Konstantin I. Penanen, Inseob Hahn, and Byeong Ho Eom of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


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Making Superconducting Welds Between Superconducting Wires

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This article first appeared in the October, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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