Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA experiments validate 50-year-old hypothesis

02.07.2003


NASA-funded researchers recently obtained the first complete proof of a 50-year-old hypothesis explaining how liquid metals resist turning into solids


The photo on the July cover of Physics Today shows a solid metal sample of titanium-zirconium-nickel alloy inside the Electrostatic Levitator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Using electromagnetic energy to levitate the sample was crucial because stray contamination from containers causes crystals to form inside liquid metals, which ruins measurements on pure samples. (NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)



The research is featured on the cover of the July issue of Physics Today. It challenges theories about how crystals form by a process called nucleation, important in everything from materials to biological systems.

"Nucleation is everywhere," said Dr. Kenneth Kelton, the physics professor who leads a research team from Washington University in St. Louis. "It’s the major way physical systems change from one phase to another. The better we understand it, the better we can tailor the properties of materials to meet specific needs," he said.


Using the Electrostatic Levitator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Kelton’s team proved the hypothesis by focusing on the "nucleation barrier." German physicist Gabriel D. Fahrenheit, while working on his temperature scale, first observed the barrier in the 1700s. When he cooled water below freezing, it didn’t immediately turn into ice but hung around as liquid in a supercooled state. That’s because it took a while for all the atoms to do an atomic "shuffle" arranging in patterns to form ice crystals.

In 1950, Dr. David Turnbull and Dr. Robert Cech, researchers at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, N.Y., showed liquid metals also resist turning into solids. In 1952, physicist Dr. Charles Frank, of the University of Bristol in England, explained this "undercooling" behavior as a fundamental mismatch in the way atoms arrange themselves in the liquid and solid phases. Atoms in a liquid metal are put together into the form of an icosahedron, a pattern with 20 triangular faces that can’t be arranged to form a regular crystal.

"The metal doesn’t change to a solid instantly, because it costs energy for the atoms to move from the icosahedral formation in the liquid to a new pattern that results in a regular crystal structure in the solid metal," explained Kelton. "It’s like being in a valley and having to climb over a mountain to get to the next valley. You expend energy to get over the barrier to a new place," he said.

Frank didn’t know about quasicrystals, first discovered in 1984, and researchers didn’t have tools like NASA’s Electrostatic Levitator. Using electrostatic energy to levitate the sample was crucial, because stray contamination from containers cause crystals to form inside liquid metals, which would have ruined Kelton’s measurements on pure samples.

To measure atom locations inside a drop of titanium-zirconium-nickel alloy, the levitator was moved to the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. There, an energetic beam of X-rays was used to map the average atom locations as the metal turned from liquid to solid. The experiment was repeated several times, and the data definitively verified Frank’s hypothesis.

As the temperature was decreased to solidify the molten sample, an icosahedral local structure developed in the liquid metal. It cost less energy to form the quasicrystal, because it had an icosahedral structure. This caused the quasicrystal to nucleate first, even though it was less stable than the crystal phase that should have formed. The icosahedral liquid structure was therefore directly linked to the nucleation barrier, as proposed by Frank.

To prepare for an International Space Station experiment, the team is continuing levitator experiments. The new techniques being developed for these studies can be applied to solve advanced materials problems on Earth and for spacecraft applications.

"As NASA scientists develop advanced materials for rocket engines and spacecraft, our facility will be a technological tool they can use to characterize materials," said Dr. Jan Rogers, a Marshall Center scientist who assisted Kelton’s research team.

Kelton’s team at Washington University included Geun Wu Lee, a graduate student, and Anup Gangopadhyay, a research scientist; Jan Rogers, Tom Rathz and Mike Robinson, all of the Marshall Center; Robert Hyers, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Doug Robinson, Ames Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Ames, Iowa.

Kelton conducts his research under NASA’s Materials Science Program managed by the Marshall Center. The research is funded by the Physical Science Research Program — part of NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research in Washington, D.C., the Marshall Center Director’s Discretionary Fund and Internal Research and Development funds from the Marshall Center’s Science Directorate.

A peer-reviewed article that discusses this work appeared in the May 16 issue of Physical Review Letters. The research was featured in the May 30 issue of Science.

Steve Roy | MSFC News Center
Further information:
http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/NEWSROOM/news/releases/2003/03-104.html
http://www.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>