Quantum effect triggers unusual material expansion
You know how you leave space in a water bottle before you pop it in the freezer -- to accommodate the fact that water expands as it freezes? Most metal parts in airplanes face the more common opposite problem. At high altitudes (low temperatures) they shrink. To keep such shrinkage from causing major disasters, engineers make airplanes out of composites or alloys, mixing materials that have opposite expansion properties to balance one another out.
New research conducted in part at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory may bring a whole new class of chemical elements into this materials science balancing act. Scientists used x-rays and two other synchrotron light sources to explore an unusual metal that expands dramatically at low temperature. The experiments on samarium sulfide doped with some impurities revealed details about the material's atomic-level structure and the electron-based origins of its "negative thermal expansion."
This work opens avenues for designing new materials where the degree of expansion can be precisely tuned by tweaking the chemical recipe.
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