Quasicrystal applications

Quasicrystals display unusual hardness, low coefficients of friction (ratio of the force causing a body to slide along a plane to the normal force pressing the two surfaces together) and high thermal and electrical resistance. Proposed applications include surface treatments for ball bearings, frying pans and other wear-resistant metals. "It's a great work of discovery, with potential applications that range from light-emitting diodes to improved diesel engines," said Nancy Jackson, president of the American Chemical Society.

Natural Quasicrystal Research Impacts

What does it mean for chemistry that quasicrystals -- previously produced only in laboratories [6] -- have now been found in nature? According to UMass Dartmouth researcher David Manke, not a whole lot right now. He said that the discovery of natural quasicrystals has not had any immediate impact on the science community. In fact, natural quasicrystals are far less pure than synthetic quasicrystals. In the natural samples, metals occupy a greater ratio of space. This obscures the purity and changes the diffraction pattern of the crystal, making it difficult to reproduce as a research target. This difficulty limits practical applications, meaning that it currently has little impact on the everyday work of chemists.

However, just because this discovery has not yet had a large impact on chemistry does not mean that it is insignificant. Daniel Shechtman’s discovery fundamentally changed the way we think of crystal structures and chemistry, and his discovery eventually brought quasicrystals into the forefront of the chemistry community. This inspires us to keep looking into the mysteries that surround the formation, structure and science of crystals.

To watch Professor Ron Lifshitz of Tel Aviv University lecture on natural quasicrystals, click here.

Practical Quasicrystal Uses

  • Alloys and Coatings

alloy_wheel.jpgDavid Phillips, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, has suggested that "Quasicrystals are a fascinating aspect of chemical and material science – crystals that break all the rules of being a crystal at all. You can normally explain in simple terms where in a crystal each atom sits – they are very symmetrical. With quasicrystals, that symmetry is broken: there are regular patterns in the structure, but never repeating." He added: "They're quite beautiful, and have potential applications in protective alloys and coatings. The award of the Nobel Prize to Danny Shechtman is a celebration of fundamental research."

  • 'Armoring' materials - Razor blades and needles

Quasicrystals strengthen specialty metals. "Their closely-packed structure helps them 'armour' materials," Phillips said. Steel quasicrystals, for example, are used to imbed softer steel in razor blades and ultra-thin needles used in optical surgery."

  • Cookware surfaces

Quasicrystals are non-adhesive, which makes them ideal non-stick surfaces for frying pans and other cooking implements.

  • Insulation

car_engine.jpgQuasicrystals are poor conductors of heat, making them beneficial as thermo-electrical materials, in which stored-up heat - from car engines, for instance - is converted into electricity.

  • Power generation

lightbulb.jpgCesar Pay Gomez, a structural chemistry expert at Uppsala University in Sweden and an adviser to the prize committee, said research on quasicrystals is ongoing "in the field of thermal-electric applications, where waste heat can be converted to electrical currents or energy."

Dr. Andrew Goodwin, from the department of chemistry at Oxford University, said "Shechtman's quasicrystals are now widely used to improve the mechanical properties of engineering materials and are the basis of an entirely new branch of structural science. "If there is one particular lesson we are taking from his research, it is not to underestimate the imagination of nature herself."

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