The best artists in the world can take a handful of different colored paints and create a museum-worthy canvas that is unlike anything else. They do this based on inspiration, knowledge of what’s been done in the past, and design rules they’ve learned after years in the studio.
Chemists work in a similar way when they invent new compounds. Researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago have developed a new method for discovering and manufacturing new crystalline materials with two or more elements.
“We hope our work will prove extremely valuable to the chemistry, materials, and condensed matter communities in synthesizing new and currently unpredictable materials with exotic properties,” said Mercouri Kanatzidis, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern with a joint appointment at Argonne.
“Our invention method grew out of research on unconventional superconductors,” said Xiuquan Zhou, a postdoc at Argonne and first author of the paper. “These are solids with two or more elements, at least one of which is not a metal. And they stop resisting electricity at different temperatures, from colder than outer space to colder than my office.”
Over the past five decades, scientists have discovered and fabricated many unconventional superconductors with amazing electrical and magnetic properties. Such materials have a wide range of possible applications, such as the improvement energy generation, power transmission and high-speed transportation. They also have the potential to be incorporated into future particle accelerators, magnetic resonance imaging systems, quantum computers and energy efficient microelectronics.
The team’s method of invention begins with a solution made of two components. One is a highly effective solvent. It dissolves and reacts with any solid added to the solution. The other is a less effective solvent. But it is there to adjust the reaction to produce a new solid by adding different elements. This adjustment involves changing the ratio of the two components and the temperature. Here, the temperature is quite high, from 750 to 1300 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We are not concerned with improving known materials, but with discovering materials that nobody knew about or that theorists imagined existed,” Kanatzidis said. “With this method, we can avoid reaction pathways to known materials and follow new paths into the unknown and unforeseen.”
As a test case, the researchers applied their method to crystalline compounds made of three to five elements. As recently reported in Nature, his method of discovery yielded 30 previously unknown compounds. Ten of them have structures never seen before.
The team prepared single crystals of some of these new compounds and characterized their structures on the UChicago ChemMatCARS beamline at 15-ID-D and 17-BM-B in the X-Ray Sciences Division of the Advanced Photon Source. , a DOE Office of Science user facility. in Argonne. “With the APS’s 17-BM-B beamline, we were able to trace the evolution of structures for the different chemical phases that formed during the reaction process,” said 17-BM-B beamline scientist Wenqian. Xu.
“Traditionally, chemists have invented and manufactured new materials based solely on knowledge of the starting ingredients and the final product,” Zhou said. “The APS data allowed us to also take into account the intermediate products that are formed during a reaction.”
The Center for Nanoscale Materials, another DOE Office of Science user facility in Argonne, contributed key experimental data and theoretical calculations to the project.
This is just the beginning of what is possible, as the method can be applied to almost any crystalline solid. It can also be applied to produce many different crystal structures. That includes multiple stacked layers, a single atom-thick layer, and chains of molecules that aren’t linked together. These unusual structures have different properties and are key to developing next-generation materials applicable not only to superconductors, but also to microelectronics, batteries, magnets, and more.
In addition to Zhou, Kanatzidis, and Xu, study co-authors include CVS Kolluru, L. Wang, T. Chang, Y.-S. Chen, L. Yu, J. Wen, MKY Chan, and D.-Y. Chung.
Xiuquan Zhou et al, Discovery of chalcogenide structures and compositions using mixed fluxes, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05307-7
Argonne National Laboratory
Citation: Chemists Make Unimaginable Possible in Discovery of Crystalline Materials (Dec 20, 2022) Accessed 21 Dec 2022 at https://phys.org/news/2022-12-chemists-unimaginable-cristalino-materials- discovery.html
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