Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Material that's metallic and glass-like but made from cement is NOT science fiction at Argonne National Laboratory

I read about this HERE in an article by Tona Kunz.
Science, you so crazy. Transparent aluminum sounded cool when I was a kid. Who
knew the stuff was actually real? After reading the article posted as a news release
on Argonne's site, I think I just crapped my pants. And for those of you too young to
know, this is a screen capture from Star Trek IV. That's Scotty on the left and Bones on
the right. Scotty is talking into a computer mouse, because he's not used to such
primitive technology. After all, he's the chief engineer of the Enterprise.
To paraphrase Tony's article, scientists have only this month unraveled a formula for turning liquid cement into liquid metal. I know, this sounds ridiculous, and I'm trying to wrap my head around this even as I jot this down for my blog. But I can't help but think of that scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when Scotty gives the secret to making transparent aluminum to a man in a Plexiglas plant. Best line from that movie (for the record) is: "THERE BE WHALES HERE!"

The process the scientists at Argonne discovered makes cement into a semi-conductor. If you're like me, you might ask "What does this mean?" and "How soon will I be able to take a transporter to and from work?" Well (unfortunately for us) there's no transporter applications yet. However, you're going to see it show up in your consumer electronics as thin films, protective coatings, and in the manufacture of computer chips. Here's a diagram of how thin films work in solar cells so you can better understand how your "cement" is going to look in the very near future:
Or if you aren't into solar panels, then how about a thin film laptop computer? Here's one in development from Cymbet Corporation using thin-film battery technology that's far superior to the clunky batteries in today's laptops. This laptop can be recharged thousands of times without ever seeing a depreciation in the time it stays charged (nice eh?), will retain its charge way better than the batteries you are using right now, will charge super fast, and doesn't have toxic chemicals to damage the environment. Imagine writing your next masterpiece on this baby.
This thing is a battery. Yeah, you read that right.
Computer chips made from cement? Yeah, it's happening. But why is it happening? Well, there's a need for materials that have resistance to corrosion (traditional metal is rather poor at resisting corrosion), that is less brittle than traditional glass (you'll be able to see through this cement), yet has conductivity, low energy loss in magnetic fields, and fluidity for ease of processing and molding. Cement can do all of this by a process called electron trapping. DISCLAIMER: I'm not going to go into what electron trapping is because, quite frankly, I can only barely grasp the concept myself.

Also, to make this stuff, they had to blast levitated cement with lasers until it melted and turned into liquid metal. You should read that last line again. THEY LEVITATED CEMENT AND BLASTED IT WITH LASERS UNTIL IT MELTED AND TURNED INTO LIQUID METAL. My reaction:
We don't just live in interesting times. We live in AMAZING times. Talk about all the fuel us science-fiction writers now have in our toolbox for genuine HARD science fiction stories...I'm truly blown away. Here's hoping that science somehow inspires you in your endeavors. Have a great Wednesday.

24 comments:

Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous said...

LOL! When you mentioned that bit in The Journey Home, it reminded me of the part where Bones is gallivanting through a hospital, curing all sorts of incurable things by giving the patients little pills. I loved that scene.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

And I thought the teen last week on the Today show with the fast charging cell phone battery was amazing. We live in amazing times indeed and that moving gif summed it up nicely Mike. That's a battery? *Faints* Thin laptop. *Faints* Your post blew my mind.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Clear cement - now that's really amazing.

Matthew MacNish said...

Holy shit.

Charity Bradford said...

Mind. Blown.

I love when you do posts like this.

Stephen Tremp said...

Amazing what science is bringing to the world. Like you said, its not easy to grasp concepts like electron trapping. You really have to live in this world 24/7 to understand it and people like me jump in and out whenever we can.

But life calls and we have to take care of business before jumping back into the breakthrough discoveries rushing at us these days and trying to understand just how the heck they work.

Sarah Ahiers said...

So. Frickin. AWESOME!!!!!


And do you know how badly i want that cool laptop?? SUPER badly!

Pat Dilloway said...

What kind of sorcery is this?! Between that and 3D printing my head might just explode.

I love that scene in Star Trek IV, especially where Scotty casually flaunts any worries about causality by saying, "How do we know he didn't invent the stuff?" Yeah, the hell with paradoxes.

1000th.monkey said...

...wow... just... wow...

Danette said...

It's amazing. Now if we could only fix climate change...

Hart Johnson said...

Really is fascinating. But what I want to know is... no self-folding laundry? No teleportation? Are we really focusing in the right direction if we don't have self-cleaning houses?

Andrew Leon said...

Or, as I was saying to my creative writing class yesterday,science-fiction inspires science to even greater endeavors.

Morgan said...

Holy! Say that title five times! ;-)

Johanna Garth said...

You know what's crazy...is these kids who are growing up with all this technology. That makes me sound old, but my kids can't fathom a world without texting! Or wifi.

mooderino said...

More importantly, when will we be able to talk to our computers? I've been waiting my whole life!

mood

J.L. Campbell said...

Yup, this stuff is enough to boggle the mind.

M Pax said...

Wow. I was just reading in Scientific American about flexible concrete sheets. This is way beyond that.

Helena said...

I love reading stories like these about phenomenal breakthroughs that sound sci fi. You realize a lot of scientists grew up on Star Trek and have been inspired by the show/movies to invent fabulous stuff?

And I agree with Kellie -- that scene with Bones running through the hospital and curing people with a pill or two (no more dialysis!) was great.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Wow, the future is here. Now just so I don't have to wear a red shirt.

Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

@Moody: We can talk to computers right now and have been able to do so for years. Windows comes with the software and you can buy Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Liz said...

When I think of the things I've seen come to pass in my lifetime... I like to imagine talking to my 16-year-old self and telling her the crazy things she'll see sooner than she'll know. Sometimes I feel like a time traveller. A time traveller traveling with time as time passes, sure, but a time traveller nonetheless.

Deniz Bevan said...

I love hearing about new discoveries!

Stephen Hayes said...

The scene you've included from Star Trek is one of my favorites. It never fails to make me laugh---transparent aluminum!

Julia King said...

Wow, I'm salivating over that laptop. I. Want. One. Now!