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Simulations reveal formation of some glassy materials like the setting of a bowl of gelatin

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Posted April 3, 2013
In a 50/50 mix of copper and niobium, regions that are richer in copper separate from regions that are richer in niobium. The interface between these two kinds of regions forms an irregular sponge-like surface, shown in this visualization in green. While most of the material is disordered (making it a glass), small collections of atoms at the boundary zone (shown in gray) form a stiff interconnected network, giving the material greater strength. Credit: Researchers

In a 50/50 mix of copper and niobium, regions that are richer in copper separate from regions that are richer in niobium. The interface between these two kinds of regions forms an irregular sponge-like surface, shown in this visualization in green. While most of the material is disordered (making it a glass), small collections of atoms at the boundary zone (shown in gray) form a stiff interconnected network, giving the material greater strength. Credit: Researchers

Gelatin sets by forming a solid matrix full of random, liquid-filled pores—much like a saturated sponge. It turns out that a similar process also happens in some metallic glasses, substances whose molecular behavior has now been clarified by new MIT research detailing the “setting” of these metal alloys.

The research is published this week in the journal Physical Review Letters, in a paper co-authored by assistant professor of materials science and engineering Michael Demkowicz and graduate student Richard Baumer. It addresses one of the “grand challenges” in physics, Demkowicz says: understanding what happens during what is known as the “glass transition” in materials, when their molecular structure settles into a disordered, yet solid, state.

“It was a serendipitous discovery,” Demkowicz says, after Baumer “started out working on something completely different, studying the radiation response of amorphous metallic alloys.” But in the course of that research, while conducting simulations of the behavior of these alloys, Baumer found something unexpected: a series of brief events in which tiny pockets of the alloyed metals melted and then solidified again.

Read more at: Phys.org

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