Quasicrystals are resurrected by a self-healing phenomenon, making an exotic material commercially viable.


Quasicrystals are resurrected by a self-healing phenomenon, making an exotic material commercially viable.

Self-healing properties could help to eliminate faults that make quasicrystals impractical.

According to findings from a University of Michigan-led research team, a class of materials that once appeared like it could transform everything from solar cells to frying pans but fell out of favor in the early 2000s could be set for commercial revival.

The discovery, which was published in Nature Communications, shows how to build considerably larger quasicrystals than previously conceivable without the faults that plagued previous makers and led to quasicrystals being rejected as an intellectual curiosity.

“One of the reasons why industry abandoned quasicrystals is that they’re full of flaws,” said Ashwin Shahani, a corresponding author on the work and a U-M assistant professor of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering. “However, we hope to reintroduce quasicrystals into the mainstream.” And this work suggests that it is possible.” Quasicrystals, which have the ordered structure of conventional crystals but without the repeating patterns, can be made with a variety of appealing features. They might be extremely hard or extremely slippery. They can absorb heat and light in unique ways, as well as have strange electrical properties, among other things.

However, the first commercializers of the material quickly discovered a flaw: microscopic fissures between crystals, known as grain boundaries, which attract corrosion and make quasicrystals vulnerable to failure. Since then, commercial development of quasicrystals has mostly been put on hold.

However, new research from Shahani’s lab shows that small quasicrystals can collide and merge together under specific conditions, generating a single giant crystal with none of the grain boundary flaws present in groups of smaller crystals. According to Shahani, the phenomena was discovered unexpectedly during a study of the material’s creation.

“It appears that the crystals are self-healing after colliding, changing one type of flaw into another that eventually vanishes,” he explained. “It’s remarkable, given the lack of regularity in quasicrystals.” The crystals begin as a fraction of a millimeter pencil-like particles suspended in a molten mixture of aluminum, cobalt, and nickel, which the scientists can monitor in real time and in 3D using X-ray tomography. The tiny crystals clash and merge together as the mixture cools, eventually changing into a single big quasicrystal several times larger than the constituent quasicrystals.

The scientists used computer simulations to virtually reproduce the procedure after witnessing it at Argonne National Laboratory. They were able to determine the exact settings under which each simulation was done by conducting each simulation under slightly different conditions. Summary of the latest news from Brinkwire.


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