The researchers' findings reveal a previously unknown mathematical relationship between the different arrangements that interacting particles can take while freezing. The discovery could give scientists insight into the essential behaviors of materials such as polymers, which are the basis of plastics.
Molecules in a material cooled to absolute zero can take on a multitude of different configurations. Historically, scientists' difficulty with identifying crystallized molecules' spatial arrangements from this high number of possible configurations has blocked theoretical efforts to understand these materials' qualities, but the new findings could offer the tool that science needs.
"We believe our 'duality relations' will be a useful theoretical tool to understand how individual particles come together to form a crystal," said Salvatore Torquato, a professor of chemistry who co-wrote the paper with senior chemist Frank Stillinger. "If we can tune the interactions among particles that form a crystal, we might be able to create materials that respond to light or mechanical stress in novel ways."
A material that maintains its exact size and shape through extremes in temperature, for example, might be valuable in the manufacture of orbiting space telescopes, whose mirrors need to retain their shape as they pass from sunlight into the Earth's shadow.
A crystal is the state of matter that is easiest to analyze because its frozen molecules are motionless and often regularly organized. A crystal's properties -- its ability to bend light, for example -- generally reveal valuable information about how its constituent molecules will behave at higher temperatures, such as when they become a liquid.
The challenge is that many complex materials can crystallize into a multitude of different structures. When a substance is cooled to nearly absolute zero, and it can take on an enormously large number of possible "ground states" -- the term for the molecular arrangement with the lowest possible energy. Scientists seek to determine the true ground state because it provides a fundamental understanding of matter in the solid state and its possible uses. However, determining which molecular pattern is the true ground state requires mathematical proof that is hard to come by.
"We resort to approximations," said Christos Likos, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany. "They help us produce meaningful results sometimes, but we need to have a lighthouse occasionally to show us we're on the right path. Such lighthouses are rare in this business, but Sal and Frank have found one."
Torquato and Stillinger's findings explore particles' behavior as they attract and repel each other over varying distances. By analyzing this behavior, the scientists were able to conceive a precise mathematical correspondence -- called duality relations -- between possible arrangements of particles. The work will enable the researchers to draw important conclusions about how particles at very low temperatures interact over great distances, a situation that is very difficult to treat theoretically.
"Once ground states can be determined and controlled with certainty, scientists might create materials with properties virtually unknown in nature," Torquato said.
Emily Aronson | EurekAlert!
Physicists discover that lithium oxide on tokamak walls can improve plasma performance
22.05.2017 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Experts explain origins of topographic relief on Earth, Mars and Titan
22.05.2017 | City College of New York
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope. Researchers from the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute network have reported the results in the journal Science Advances.
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is an integral part of almost all organic compounds. Molecules and sections of macromolecules are...
22.05.2017 | Event News
17.05.2017 | Event News
16.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.05.2017 | Life Sciences
22.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy