Saturday, 22 November 2008

Wonderful material universe

For all those doomsayers who proclaim the nearing end of science - the Universe has more surprises than anyone can think of. So if the science would come to an end, it would not be because of the lack of wonders to discover, but because either we cease to look for them (because of lack of funds and public understanding and support) or that the humanity loses the capability to do science...

But back to the interesting part: I always thought material science (especially inorganic) to be a bit boring. Even discoveries of fullerenes, nanotubes and graphene was not a surprise: these were all forms of the `most flexible' of elements, carbon. But then there are the mysterious High Tc ceramic superconductors, where we still do not know what causes the current to flow without resistance.

A recent piece of news has caught my attentions: a new material, ceramic alloy of boron, aluminium and magnesium (AlMgB_14) with titanium boride (TiB_2). It is extremely hard - in fact one of the hardest substances ever discovers/made. But it has also a very, very low friction coefficient, 2.5 times smaller than the previous record holder - teflon, and 8 times smaller than lubricated steel. Such discovery can bring real changes in the efficiency of machinery, energy coonservation etc.

So, even the traditional, down-to-earth, just another compound to be tested physics can be refreshing and important.

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