A Carnegie-led team was able to discover five new forms of silica under extreme pressures at room temperature. Their findings are published by Nature Communications.
Silicon dioxide, commonly called silica, is one of the most-abundant natural compounds and a major component of the Earth's crust and mantle. It is well-known even to non-scientists in its quartz crystalline form, which is a major component of sand in many places. It is used in the manufacture of microchips, cement, glass, and even some toothpaste.
A simulated visual representation of the structural transition from coesite to post-stishovite. The silicon atoms (blue spheres) surrounded by four oxygen atoms (red spheres) are shown as blue tetrahedrons. The silicon atoms surrounded by six oxygen atoms are shown as green octahedrons. The intermediate phases are not filled in with color, showing the four stages that are neither all-blue like coesite nor all-green like post-stishovite. This image is provided courtesy of Ho-Kwang Mao.
Credit: Ho-Kwang Mao
Silica's various high-pressure forms make it an often-used study subject for scientists interested in the transition between different chemical phases under extreme conditions, such as those mimicking the deep Earth.
The first-discovered high-pressure, high-temperature denser form, or phase, of silica is called coesite, which, like quartz, consists of building blocks of silicon atoms surrounded by four oxygen atoms. Under greater pressures and temperatures, it transforms into an even denser form called stishovite, with silicon atoms surrounded by six oxygen atoms.
The transition between these phases was crucial for learning about the pressure gradient of the deep Earth and the four-to-six configuration shift has been of great interest to geoscientists. Experiments have revealed even higher-pressure phases of silica beyond these two, sometimes called post-stishovite.
A chemical phase is a distinctive and uniform configuration of the molecules that make up a substance. Changes in external conditions, such as temperature and pressure, can induce a transition from one phase to another, not unlike water freezing into ice or boiling into steam.
The team, including Carnegie's Qingyang Hu, Jinfu Shu, Yue Meng, Wenge Yang, and Ho-Kwang, "Dave" Mao, demonstrated that under a range from 257,000 to 523,000 times normal atmospheric pressure (26 to 53 gigapascals), a single crystal of coesite transforms into four new, co-existing crystalline phases before finally recombining into a single phase that is denser than stishovite, sometimes called post-stishovite, which is the team's fifth newly discovered phase. This transition takes place at room temperature, rather than the extreme temperatures found deep in the earth.
Scientists previously thought that this intermediate was amorphous, meaning that it lacked the long-range order of a crystalline structure. This new study uses superior x-ray analytical probes to show otherwise--they are four, distinct, well-crystalized phases of silica without amorphization. Advanced theoretical calculations performed by the team provided detailed explanations of the transition paths from coesite to the four crystalline phases to post-stishovite.
"Scientists have long debated whether a phase exists between the four- and six-oxygen phases," Mao said. "These newly discovered four transition phases and the new phase of post-stishovite we discovered show the missing link for which we've been searching."
The paper's other co-authors are Adam Cadien of George Mason University and Howard Sheng of both the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research in Shanghai, China, and George Mason University.
This work was supported by the NSF. HPCAT operations are supported by CIW, CDAC, UNLV and LLNL through funding from DOE-NNSA and DOE-BES, with partial instrumentation funding by NSF.
The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
Ho-Kwang "Dave" Mao | EurekAlert!
New materials: Growing polymer pelts
19.11.2018 | Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)
Why geckos can stick to walls
19.11.2018 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
19.11.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.11.2018 | Information Technology
19.11.2018 | Life Sciences