To the wonderment---and the befuddlement---of scientists, the patterns that form as plastics, metals and many other materials crystallize can vary incredibly, ranging from sea-urchin-like spheres to elaborate tree-like branches.
Now, Hungarian and National Institute of Standards and Technology scientists report in the September issue of Nature Materials* that they have developed a way to predict the polycrystalline microstructures that will form as complex liquid mixtures cool and solidify. Ultimately, the team’s new simulation tool could help manufacturers of everything from plastic bags to airplane wings to design new products with improved strength, durability and other properties.
Images generated with the team’s mathematical model match up almost feature for feature with the seemingly random crystal patterns formed in experiments as temperatures or other processing variables are modified. The model accurately predicts how both impurities (or additives) and process differences affect the sizes, shapes and orientations of crystals that form during the so-called supercooling process.
Mark Bello | EurekAlert!
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