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Monday, March 27, 2023

Quasicrystal with a “Flashy” Origin

• Physics 16, 7

A beforehand unseen quasicrystal has been present in a sand dune in Nebraska, and researchers suppose it could have been produced by a lightning strike.

Diffraction sample of a lightning-created quasicrystal present in Nebraska.

Solely a handful of quasicrystals—constructions that sit someplace between crystals and glasses—have been found exterior of the laboratory. The primary was recognized in a meteorite and is believed to have been created throughout a high-velocity affect occasion. One other turned up in a 2021 research of particles from the positioning of the world’s first nuclear explosion, which befell in 1945 in New Mexico. Now researchers have discovered a brand new quasicrystal in an equally quirky location—a sand dune in Nebraska—with a equally highly effective era mechanism: the high-intensity electrical discharge of a lightning strike [1].

Scientists grew to become enthusiastic about quasicrystals within the early Eighties when electron-diffraction experiments revealed an alloy with fivefold (icosahedral) symmetry that was strictly forbidden for any periodic crystal (see Focus: Nobel Prize—Discovery of Quasicrystals). Because it turned out, theorists had hypothesized that such a cloth may exist, assuming its construction was “quasiperiodic,” which means that it accommodates patterns that repeat however not at equal intervals. Subsequent lab-produced quasicrystals have been proven to own novel electrical, photonic, and mechanical properties that aren’t present in different supplies, making them a beautiful prospect for supplies scientists.

The meteorite and explosion-site quasicrystals have been each uncovered by a crew that features Luca Bindi of the College of Florence, Italy, and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton College. In these earlier instances, the supplies have been subjected to extraordinarily high-pressure, high-temperature shock occasions—evaluation of the meteorite pattern revealed the temperature reached at the very least 1200 °C and the strain 5 GPa, whereas the New Mexico pattern reached 1500 °C and nearer to eight GPa. These transient, intense circumstances contorted the supplies’ atoms, forcing them to rearrange into patterns unseen for normal laboratory circumstances.

The explosion-site pattern was present in a rock-like substance fabricated from sand that had been fused along with copper wires from a measurement machine that had been set as much as monitor the atom-bomb take a look at. As a skilled geologist, Bindi was conscious that comparable substances—so-called fulgurites—are created when lightning strikes a seashore or a sand dune. He puzzled if lightning-fused samples may also comprise quasicrystals, so he and the crew set about accumulating and analyzing the constructions of as many fulgurites as they may lay their fingers on.

Luck was on their facet. In a fraction of a storm-created fulgurite from the Nebraskan Sand Hills—grass-stabilized sand dunes in northern Nebraska—the crew discovered a micron-sized fragment of a quasicrystal with a beforehand unseen composition and sample. Particularly, the newly found quasicrystal has a dodecagonal—12-fold symmetric—atomic construction. Such ordering is inconceivable in unusual crystals, Bindi says, and is uncommon even for quasicrystals (each the meteorite and explosion-site quasicrystals, in addition to most lab-made ones, have fivefold symmetric patterns). “This was all greater than [we] may have hoped for in such a long-shot search,” Steinhardt says.

Just like the explosion-site pattern, the Nebraskan one accommodates anthropogenic steel, which the crew thinks got here from an influence line that was downed through the fulgurite-creating storm. Due to the presence of the ability line, Steinhardt says that the crew can not definitively attribute the formation of the quasicrystal to a lightning strike. It was both that or {an electrical} discharge from the ability line, he says.

“Bindi, Steinhardt, and colleagues have simply made the world an much more fascinating place,” says Robert Hazen, a geologist on the Carnegie Establishment for Science in Washington, DC. “To me the invention of [quasicrystals] is without doubt one of the nice surprises of contemporary mineralogy. Every new discover enriches the story and gives insights.” For instance, the formation mechanism of the Nebraskan quasicrystal may present scientists with new routes to synthesizing these unique supplies. “Others will certainly construct on these thrilling outcomes,” Hazen says.

Because the third discovery of a quasicrystal “within the wild,” Bindi says that the brand new discovering takes quasicrystals a step farther from laboratory oddity to on a regular basis pure marvel. “To seek out them in nature implies that quasicrystals will be thought of a secure state of matter,” Bindi says. Steinhardt agrees, including that quasicrystals is likely to be rather more widespread than researchers suppose, they simply should be discovered. For instance, “the truth that we discovered [a quasicrystal] in a meteorite from our Photo voltaic System means that they could be fashioned in star techniques and galaxies all through the Universe,” he says.

–Katherine Wright

Katherine Wright is the Deputy Editor of Physics Journal.


  1. L. Bindi et al., “Electrical discharge triggers quasicrystal formation in an eolian dune,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 120 (2022).

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