University of Houston Receives IEEE Milestone Award

Award Marks Site of 1987 Discovery of High Temperature Superconductivity

The University of Houston will be recognized Nov. 17 by IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) as the site of the discovery by physicist Paul Chu and colleagues of a material that made high temperature superconductivity practical for real-world applications. The University will receive IEEE’s prestigious Milestone Award.

Chu and his colleagues created a material in January 1987 that is able to conduct electricity without any loss due to resistance at above 77 degrees Kelvin, allowing it to be cooled with liquid nitrogen, which dramatically reduced the cost. Later that month, they refined the work, reaching 90 degrees Kelvin – about 300 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The award is only the second IEEE Milestone to be awarded in superconductivity and the first Milestone for the Houston region.

The IEEE award notes that their work “led to advanced applications of superconductivity in energy, medicine, communications and transportation.” That includes its use in magnetic resonance imaging machines, electric motors, sensors in satellites and new high-speed trains.

A bronze Milestone plaque will be presented at 2 p.m., Nov. 17 at the Hilton University of Houston, following the IEEE Milestone Community Lectures: Superconductivity Above 77 K in Y-123. The high temperature superconductor developed at UH is known as yttrium-barium-copper-oxide, or Y-123.

The plaque will later be installed in the lobby of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics’ Science and Research 1 building on the UH campus, where Chu’s lab was located at the time of the discovery.

The award presentation will follow the lectures. The presentation and lectures are free and open to the public, but people wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to

The lectures begin at 10 a.m. with a talk by Chu, TLL Temple Chair of Science, professor of physics and founding director and chief scientist of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH).

Other speakers include 2003 Nobel Prize winner Sir Anthony J. Leggett, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor and Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Alan Lauder, executive director of the Coalition for the Commercial Application of Superconductors and president of Alan Lauder, Inc. 

The award was coordinated by the IEEE Houston Section and the IEEE Council on Superconductivity. The Milestone award honors significant technical achievements that are considered breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.

IEEE, the world’s largest technical and professional association, includes engineers, scientists and other professionals, including computer scientists, software developers and physicists, in addition to electrical and electronics engineers.

 This is the second IEEE Milestone to be awarded in superconductivity. The first was dedicated in 2011 to celebrate the centennial of the discovery of superconductivity in 1911 by Kammerlingh Onnes at the Leiden Laboratory in The Netherlands.

 “It is fitting that this second Milestone is being dedicated in Houston after a shorter invention-to-

Milestone timespan, highlighting both its fundamental and technological relevance,” said Elie Track, president of the IEEE Council on Superconductivity.

 Willis King, emeritus associate professor of computer science at UH and a former chairman of the department, approached Donald G. Dunn about the milestone in 2012, when Dunn was chairman of the IEEE Houston Section.

 “I was pleased to endorse the milestone and am proud that this effort has come to fruition and will be the first for the section,” said Dunn, director of engineering for the Amarillo division of Phillips 66. He now serves as treasurer of the IEEE Houston Section.

 More than 100 Milestones have been approved and dedicated around the world in the past 31 years.