Scientists create 'transparent aluminum,' call it a new state of matter

Scientists create 'transparent aluminum,' call it a new state of matter

Summary: Oxford scientists claim to have created a transparent form of aluminum by bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser. The substance is nearly transparent to extreme ultraviolet radiation and is the latest addition to a growing list of exotic states of matter.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Oxford scientists claim to have created a transparent form of aluminum by bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser. The substance is nearly transparent to extreme ultraviolet radiation and is the latest addition to a growing list of exotic states of matter.

Crossing over from science fiction to fact,  'transparent aluminum' was an idea featured in the movie Star Trek IV.  The creation of the real material, however, has implications for areas as diverse as planetary science, astrophysics, and nuclear fusion.

Credit: Univerity of Oxford

Credit: University of Oxford

To create the exotic matter, an international team of researchers led by Oxford University scientists used a short pulse from the FLASH laser to ‘knock out’ a core electron from every aluminum atom in a sample without disrupting the metal’s crystalline structure.  They report that this turned the aluminum nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation. Pictured left is an experimental set-up at the FLASH laser facility used to discover the exotic material.

''What we have created is a completely new state of matter nobody has seen before,’ said Professor Justin Wark of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, one of the authors of a paper detailing the findings in this week’s Nature Physics.

‘Transparent aluminum is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of 'miniature stars' created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth,’ Wark added.

To make it possible, the discovery required a new source of radiation that is ten billion times brighter than any synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator, in the world.  The FLASH laser, based in Hamburg, Germany, was up to the task.  It generated extremely brief pulses of soft X-ray light, each one more powerful than the output of a power plant that provides electricity to a whole city. The researchers directed all this power down into a spot with a diameter less than a twentieth of the width of a human hair.  The result was the aluminum turning transparent for an extremely brief period – an estimated 40 femtoseconds, or one quadrillionth of a second.

This discovery demonstrates that such an exotic state of matter can be created using very high power X-ray sources, claims the Oxford team. Professor Wark added:

What is particularly remarkable about our experiment is that we have turned ordinary aluminum into this exotic new material in a single step by using this very powerful laser. For a brief period the sample looks and behaves in every way like a new form of matter. In certain respects, the way it reacts is as though we had changed every aluminum atom into silicon: it’s almost as surprising as finding that you can turn lead into gold with light!

Source: University of Oxford

Topic: Tech Industry

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15 comments
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  • So I guess...

    We are not quite to the star trek level of using transparent aluminum to replace all our glass... dang...
    Stuka
    • Well, actually you can

      It's called Sapphire, made from aluminum oxide, and it's transparent. Used in all kinds of industrial applications, small windows included, and even semiconductors. Kind of expensive though. I'm referring to the man made stuff, not natural gems.
      fwelsh
    • RE: Scientists create 'transparent aluminum,' call it a new state of matter

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      meimeili
  • pic or it didn't happen! (nt)

    nt
    ericesque
  • I guess they can be paid in "femto-dollars"?

    What is next .... military "intelligence"?
    kd5auq
    • Ha ha jerk. nt

      nt
      T1Oracle
  • Cool!

    They can create a new type of clingfilm that you can put in the oven!
    foremski
  • Lead to Gold !

    Show me the money!
    jpr75_z
  • Wow!

    This is really cool. The creation of exotic forms of matter with huge honking lasers make them a very valuable tool instead of another piece of Republican star wars trash.
    progon
    • How useful?

      Every home should have one. This will make the world a better place and will benefit the environment and life on Earth.
      Or, how about spending the research money on real-world issues?
      peter_erskine
      • Useful, schmuseful

        This is what used to be called 'basic science', what we in the US were
        better at than anybody until the people who run the place decided that
        scamming the financial system was a more suitable vocation. Now, with
        rare exceptions like this, all the really interesting science is being done
        in places that the average Midwestern American has never even learned
        anything about, let alone visited.

        [sarcasm]Oh, well. It's not "reality" TV, so it doesn't matter.[/sarcasm]
        Jeff Dickey
        • exactly, they won't laugh when it makes time travel possible!

          as long as you're spherical, and in a vacuum.
          stevey_d
        • Exception?

          This work hasn't been undertaken by anyone in the US - this has been done by Oxford University in the UK. So, this work is being undertaken in places where the average Midwestern American might have heard of..?
          bedswerver
    • I guess you didn't read the first word in the article

      "Oxford" scientists. Oxford is in the United Kingdom, not the US. Why would you care is British research pounds were wasted?

      Besides, this kind of research is not wasted money. It is an investment in the future. All current technology is developed from the core science research done in previous generations.

      Now that they know that this is possible they will find some multi-step process that accomplishes the same thing. Then they'll make it last longer. Then they'll make it cheaper. Then, maybe a long time from now, some company will sell it to your grandchildren.
      robert_rowe9
  • RE: Scientists create 'transparent aluminum,' call it a new state of matter

    Wasn't that Star Trek with the whales?
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