Scientists turn cement into metal

Posted By Kristen Butler,  |  May 28, 2013 at 1:18 PM
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Scientists have unraveled the formula for turning liquid cement into liquid metal, making cement a semi-conductor that can be used for thin films, protective coatings and computer chips in consumer electronics.

Chris Benmore, a physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and a team of scientists from Japan, Finland, and Germany worked together to turn liquid cement into a metallic-glass material, with better resistance to corrosion than traditional metal, less brittleness than traditional glass, conductivity, low energy loss in magnetic fields, and fluidity for ease of processing and molding.

Cement can do this by a process called electron trapping. The new material "has lots of applications including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays," Benmore said in a news release.

The team of scientists used mayenite, a component of alumina cement made of calcium and aluminum oxides. They melted it at temperatures of 2,000 degrees Celsius using an aerodynamic levitator with carbon dioxide laser beam heating.

This let the liquid cool into glassy state that can trap electrons for electronic conduction. The levitation method was developed specifically at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source by a team led by Benmore.

"Now that we know the conditions needed to create trapped electrons in materials," Benmore said, "we can develop and test other materials to find out if we can make them conduct electricity in this way."

Their study opens the possibility of turning other solid, normally insulating materials into room-temperature semiconductors. The results were reported May 27 in the journal the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

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