Saturday, 2 February 2013

Man's Mysterious Materials

Photonic Chemistry

A few days ago I mentioned Neal Stephenson's Daimond Age novel, and how synthetic chemists are mimicking Science Fiction, with  new chemicals and materials. I reported new cubic boron hydride crystal that can be harder than diamond.


Here are a few other chemical developments, the first a sinister reflection of another science fiction classic, Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.  

Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature. When a crystal of ice-nine contacts liquid water, it becomes a seed crystal that makes the molecules of liquid water arrange themselves into the solid form, ice-nine. Think what that could do to the world's water supply.




On a slightly smaller scale (so far) scientists have created a polymer that is very good at solidifying water.  One kilogram of the polyisocyanide polymer when added to a swimming pool will turn the whole pool solid (or to a jelly anyway). Sounds familiar doesn't it. They admit they haven't actually tried doing the experiment yet: this may be a bad idea. quite a mess to clear up I should think.

On a good note, Japanese scientists have invented a marsh-mallow like sponge based on the chemical  dimethyldimethoxysilane (DMDMS), for mopping up oil that has the unique feature that it can be wrung out. If it could be scaled up sufficiently this could have applications both for oil-spillage and other chemical spills.

Moving from hard to strong materials, other scientists have created the world's strongest fibresThe toughest polymer yarn ever has been made, by mixing a polymer with sheets of reduced graphene oxide (RGOF) and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) during spinning. The yarns can be twisted without breaking or sewn like thread. They can also be coiled into spring shapes.

Finally , more scientists have also produced a Metallic microlattice, the lightest material ever. The new nickel-phosphorus lattice literally is as light as a feather.

These are just a few of the new materials can and will revolutionise the world around us, perhaps leading to a real life Diamond Age.

Photonic Progress: Chemistry