Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Caltech scientists use high-pressure 'alchemy' to create nonexpanding metals

17.06.2009
By squeezing a typical metal alloy at pressures hundreds of thousands of times greater than normal atmospheric pressure, scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a material that does not expand when heated, as does nearly every normal metal, and acts like a metal with an entirely different chemical composition.

The discovery, described in a paper in Physical Review Letters (PRL), offers insight into the exotic behavior of materials existing at high pressures—which represent some 90 percent of the matter in our solar system.

Zero-expanding metal alloys were discovered in 1896 by Swiss physicist Charles Édouard Guillaume, who worked at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France. While attempting to develop an inexpensive international standard for the meter, the metric unit of length, Guillaume hit upon an inexpensive iron-nickel alloy that expands very little when heated.

He dubbed the material an "Invar" alloy—because the metals are "invariant" when heated, such that the length of a piece of Invar metal does not change as its temperature is increased, as do normal metals. Since Guillaume's discovery—which, in 1920, earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics (besting Albert Einstein, who was awarded the prize in 1921)—other nonexpanding alloys have been identified.

It has long been known that Invar behavior is caused by unusual changes in the magnetic properties of the alloys that somehow cancel out the thermal expansion of the material. (Normally, heat increases the vibrations of the atoms that make up a material, and the atoms prefer to move apart a little, causing expansion.)

"Recent computer simulations indicate that electrons in Invar alloys take on a special energy configuration," says Caltech graduate student Michael Winterrose, the first author of the PRL paper. "This energy state is at the borderline between two types of magnetic behavior, and is very sensitive to the precise ratio of elements that make up the alloy. If you move away from the Invar chemical composition by only a couple of percent, the energy configuration will disappear," he says.

Because of their unresponsiveness to temperature change, Invar alloys have been used in devices ranging from watches, toasters, light bulbs, and engine parts to computer and television screens, satellites, lasers, and scientific instruments. "In our day-to-day lives, we are surrounded by items that make essential use of Invar alloys," Winterrose says.

The Caltech scientists did not set out to study Invar behavior—and, in fact, were hoping to avoid it. "We intentionally picked chemical compositions that do not show Invar behavior because I thought it would confuse our interpretations," says Brent Fultz, a professor of materials science and applied physics at Caltech, and a coauthor of the PRL paper.

Instead, Winterrose, Fultz, and their colleagues were examining the effect of pressure on the alloy of palladium (Pd) and iron (Fe) called Pd3Fe, where three of every four atoms are palladium, and one is an iron atom. (In the similarly named but chemically distinct PdFe3—which is a traditional Invar alloy—three of every four atoms are iron, and one is palladium).

"The Fe and Pd atoms [in the alloy] have very different sizes, and we expected to see some interesting effects from this size difference when we put Pd3Fe under pressure and measured its volume," Winterrose explains. To test this, the scientists squeezed a small sample of the material between two diamond anvils, generating pressures inside the sample that were 326,000 times greater than standard atmospheric pressure.

"Our initial results from these studies showed that the alloy stiffened under pressure, but far more than we expected," he says. To figure out the cause, the scientists simulated the quantum mechanical behavior of the electrons in the alloy under pressure. "The simulations showed that under pressure, the electrons found the special energy levels between strong and weak magnetism that are associated with normal Invar behavior. Up to this point we had been quite unaware of the possibility for Invar behavior in our material," Winterrose says.

Subsequent experiments at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York confirmed that the intense pressure had indeed suppressed thermal expansion in Pd3Fe, much like tuning the chemical composition.

The scientists had performed a kind of high-pressure "alchemy" on the alloy, where pressure makes the electrons act as if they are around atoms of a different chemical element, Winterrose says.

The research helps unify our understanding of Invar behavior, which is one of the oldest and most-studied unresolved problems in materials research. In addition, using pressure to force electrons into new states can point to directions in materials chemistry where new properties can be found, at least for magnetism.

"Today, materials physics has some excellent computational tools for predicting the structure and properties of materials, although there are suspicions about how well they work for magnetic materials," says Fultz. "It is satisfying that these computational tools worked so well for showing how pressure changed the material into an Invar alloy. Invar behavior is pretty subtle, requiring a very special condition for the electrons in the metal that is usually tuned by precise control of chemical composition. Pressure can make the electrons behave as if they are in a material of different chemical composition, so I really like Mike's use of the word 'alchemy'."

The paper, "Pressure-Induced Invar Behavior in Pd3Fe," was published in the June 12 issue of PRL. In addition to Winterrose and Fultz, the coauthors are Matthew S. Lucas, Alan F. Yue, Itzhak Halevy, Lisa Mauger, and Jorge Munoz (from Caltech); Jingzhu Hu, from the University of Chicago; and Michael Lerche, from the Carnegie Institution for Science.

The work was supported by the Carnegie–Department of Energy (DOE) Alliance Center, funded by the DOE through the Stewardship Sciences Academic Alliance of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and by the DOE's Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences; by the National Science Foundation and its Consortium for Materials Properties Research in Earth Sciences (COMPRES); and by the W. M. Keck Foundation.

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at http://media.caltech.edu.

Kathy Svitil | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.caltech.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>