Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have concocted a formula that turns cement into a semi-conductor — a breakthrough that will allow it to be used for thin films, protective coatings, and computer chips.
The international research team did so by melting mayenite (a rare calcium aluminum oxide mineral) at about 2,000 degrees Celsius using an aerodynamic levitator with laser beam heating. The levitator used nozzles to pump out inert gas that levitated the mayenite.
They then processed the material in various conditions to control the way that oxygen bonds in the resulting glass. The levitator keeps hot liquid from touching any container surface and forming crystals — a method which allowed the liquid to cool into a glassy state, that traps electrons in a way that's conducive for electronic conduction.
In other words, they blasted the shit out of levitated cement with lasers until it melted and turned into liquid metal. Who says the future isn't here yet?
The scientists discovered that the conductivity was created when the free electrons were "trapped" in the cage-like structures that formed in the glass. Interestingly, the trapped electrons provide a mechanisms for conductivity similar to what happens in metal.
The end result was a material that's metallic- and glass-like, but one that exhibits better resistance to corrosion than regular metal — and is less brittle than glass. And of course, it's a semi-conductive material.
The study can be read at PNAS: "Network topology for the formation of solvated electrons in binary CaO–Al2O3 composition glasses."
[Source and images: Argonne National Laboratory]
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