Newly Captured 4D Atomic Motion Contradicts Older Theories of How Elements Melt and Freeze

Scientists disprove long-held theories of how atoms change when melting, freezing and evaporating.

Newly Captured 4D Atomic Motion Contradicts Older Theories of How Elements Melt and Freeze
This image shows 4D atomic motion. Alexander Tokarev/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Breakthrough research led by a team of scientists at UCLA in the US may change what we know about atoms. 

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The team captured images of the 4D movement of atoms at different times, as they changed forms. These forms included melting, freezing, and evaporating. 

This is the first time these images have been captured, and that this information has been shared.

This research may open up new opportunities in the creation of new materials, as well as chemical and biological processes.

How did the team make this discovery?

The team made use of Berkeley Lab's most modern 3D electron microscope and examined iron-platinum alloy, sliced the width of 1/10,000th of a human hair. In other words, at a microscopic level. 

The alloy was then heated at 968 degrees Fahrenheit, moving from one solid state to another. 3D images were captured at 9, 16, and 26 minutes; while the sample was rotating in the microscope. 

Physics and astronomy professor at UCLA,  Jianwei "John" Miao, said "People think it's difficult to find a needle in a haystack. How difficult would it be to find the same atom in more than a trillion atoms at three different times?"

No easy feat.

What did the team discover?

The alloy moved from one state to another, which was expected.

What was different was the nuclei created irregular shapes instead of perfectly round ones - which were the ones always predicted as per previous long-standing theories. 

Another change was the fact that their borders became more jumbled, instead of sharp.

To those in the field, this is exciting news; as co-author of the study, Peter Ercius stated: "Nucleation is basically an unsolved problem in many fields, once you image something you can start to think about how to control it."

This could be the start of more improved and stronger materials. 

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