(ORDO NEWS) — A group of New Zealand and Australian scientists have created something unexpected – tiny metal “snowflakes” that look exactly like real water ones.
In the future, this discovery will be useful in the development of stronger and lighter materials, cleaning the environment of toxic metals and electronics production.
When water freezes, tiny ice crystals line up in a variety of symmetrical hexagonal structures. Now, researchers in Australia and New Zealand have been able to repeat the process, but with zinc crystals dissolved in another metal, gallium , which already melts at 30 degrees Celsius.
By dissolving zinc in gallium at high temperatures, the researchers then cooled the solution, in which metal crystals gradually formed.
At the same time, gallium itself remained liquid and was not part of the new structures, but its presence was important, because the formation of “snowflakes” occurred only in the gallium solvent.
In other words, although we usually imagine liquids to be devoid of a specific structure, the internal architecture of liquid gallium, interacting with dissolved metal atoms, contributed to their structurization and the appearance of “snowflakes”, which were then removed from the solution by electrocapillary modulation and vacuum filtration.
Scientists worked with other metals – nickel, copper, tin, platinum, bismuth, silver and aluminum – but only zinc formed beautiful symmetrical snowflakes, while in other cases cubes, rods and hexagonal plates were obtained.
The researchers believe that the reason is in the structure of the zinc crystal lattice, where each atom is surrounded by six neighbors located at equal distances from it.
The new discovery expands the possibilities for creating nanoparticles of a given shape, because, unlike costly and time-consuming cutting, zinc “snowflakes” were formed due to the self-assembly of atoms.
In the future, its results may be useful for creating highly crystalline metallic or polymetallic thin structures with a controlled shape from liquid metallic solvents.
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