At 5:29 am on July 16, 1945, a horrifying piece of history was made in New Mexico.
The calm of dawn was shattered when the US military detonated a plutonium explosive device known as the Gadget, the world’s first nuclear bomb test, known as the Trinity test.
An energy release equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT vaporized a 30-meter test tower and miles of copper wire connecting it to recording devices. The resulting fireball fused the tower, the copper to the asphalt, and the desert sand below into green glass—a new mineral called trinitite.
Decades later, scientists have uncovered the secret hidden in a piece of trinitite, a rare form of material known as a quasicrystal that was once thought impossible.
Geophysicist Terry Wallace of Los Alamos National Laboratory explained last year that “quasicrystals form under extreme conditions rarely found on Earth. They require a traumatic event with high impact, temperature and pressure. dramatic, like an explosion. “nuclear”.
Most crystals, from table salt to hard diamonds, follow the same rule: their atoms are arranged in a lattice pattern that repeats itself in three-dimensional space. Quasicrystal violates this rule – the arrangement of its atoms is not repeated.
When this concept first appeared in the scientific world in 1984, it was considered impossible: crystals are either ordered or disorganized, there is no intermediate link between them. Then they were found in real life, created in the laboratory and in the wild – inside deep-seated meteorites formed by thermodynamic shock from events such as supervelocity impact.
Knowing that extreme conditions are required to produce quasicrystals, a team of scientists led by geologist Luca Bindi from the University of Florence in Italy decided to take a closer look at trinitite.
While rare, we’ve seen enough quasi-crystals to know that they tend to fuse with minerals, so the team went looking for a very rare form of the mineral, red trinitite, given its color due to the vaporized copper wires embedded in it.
Using techniques such as scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction, they analyzed six small samples of red tripotassium. Finally, they succeeded in one of the designs, a tiny 20-sided bead made of silicon, copper, calcium and iron with five-spin symmetry impossible in ordinary crystals – an “unintended consequence” of provoking wars.
Wallace explained in 2021 when Distribute Team research: “This quasi-crystal is notable for its complexity, but no one can yet tell us why it formed in this way. But someday a scientist or engineer will discover it, and the veil will fall from our eyes, and we have a thermodynamic explanation for its creation. Then I hope we can use this knowledge to better understand nuclear explosions, leading to a more complete picture of what constitutes a nuclear experiment.”
This discovery represents the oldest man-made semi-crystalline materials and suggests that there may be other natural pathways for the formation of semi-crystalline materials.
The researchers said this study could also help us better understand illegal nuclear testing, with the ultimate goal of curbing the spread of nuclear weapons.
And publish the study in PNAS.
Source: Science Alert.