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Researchers produce trace amounts of super-hard aluminum

Published by Steve Coleman on August 25, 2011

Lab experiments by an international team of researchers have produced small quantities of a 40 per cent denser, super-hard aluminum.

While the material was predicted to exist at the theoretical level more than 30 years ago, researchers say they've produced physical evidence. It took a laser, a sapphire and a small explosion to make happen, however.

"We demonstrated that it is possible to create extreme pressure and temperature conditions in table-top laboratory experiments using an extremely short laser pulse to create a huge concentration of energy in a very short time and in a very small sub-micron volume inside a sapphire crystal, which is aluminum oxide," said professor Andrei Rode in a news release from the Laser Physics Centre at The Austalian National University. "This experiment resulted in something like a micro-explosion which turned the aluminum to a plasma state that swelled but had nowhere else to go, creating gigantic pressure and dramatic changes in surrounding material properties and producing unfamiliar x-ray spectral lines."

Researchers came close to abandoning their project after the readings didn't produce the results they were looking for at first glance. It wasn't until they went back to look at some of the oddball results that they realized they had hit pay dirt.

"The idea was considered crazy because it contradicted a conventional wisdom that aluminum surrounded by oxygen must be oxidised in normal condition," said Rode. "But to paraphrase Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize laureate in physics, the discovery of a new aluminum phase proved that ‘... the idea was crazy enough to be true.'"

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