Crystals are more than just pretty faces. Many of the useful properties associated with metal alloys or polymer blends -- like strength, flexibility and clarity -- stem from a materials specific crystal microstructure. So the more scientists know about how crystal patterns grow as a material solidifies, the better theyll be able to create new materials with specific properties.
Computer simulation of the crystal structure for a copper-nickel alloy with randomly dispersed particles.
In a recent issue of Nature Materials, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers described work with collaborators in Hungary and France using computer simulations of crystal growth to advance understanding of how foreign particles -- either additives or impurities -- affect crystal growth patterns. They found that computer simulations developed to predict the crystal growth of metal alloys matched up remarkably well with microscope images of actual crystals grown in polymer films with thicknesses far below that of a human hair.
Randomly dispersed foreign particles in both the simulation and the real materials produced what the researchers dubbed "dizzy dendrites." In both cases, the tree-like branches in the crystals tend to curve and split, instead of forming the straight, symmetric patterns typical of pure crystals. Further simulations indicated that rotating the particles in concert during the solidification process produced spiraling dendrites.
Mark Bello | EurekAlert!
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