Scientists find really simple way to produce ‘impossible’ material

31 Jul 2018

A hot metal ingot being forged. Image: Aeed Bird/Shutterstock

For years, a particular type of material was thought impossible to make, but a team of scientists just showed how easy it actually was.

Science is all about proving that there is no such thing as impossible, and now an international team of researchers has gone and proved just that with the forging of nitrates.

Publishing its findings in Nature Communications and Angewandte Chemie International Edition, the team from Germany, Sweden and the US described how it was easily able to create the materials actively used in super-hard coatings and electronics.

Typically, nitrogen content found in these materials is low, making it very difficult for the amount of nitrogen to exceed the levels of transition metals.

For this experiment, the team selected the compounds rhenium and iron as they are good examples of this problem.

All that was required for the very simple method of producing nitrates to work was changing the synthesising process from typical Earth conditions to an ultra-high pressurised environment.

Then, the nitrogen and transition metal are placed within a diamond anvil under intense pressure, and soon enough nitrates are produced.

‘Opens up fantastic opportunities’

“This method is one of the most promising ways to create new, high-quality materials, and it opens up fantastic opportunities,” said Igor Abrikosov of the research team.

“Rhenium nitride has a characteristic of low compressibility, so it potentially has very high mechanical characteristics and the characteristic of super-hardness, which is important, for example, in improving the quality of cutting tools.”

Looking to the future, Abrikosov said that the team will need to clarify whether the materials are superconductors or magnets, and whether they are suitable for spintronics.

A fundamental property of particles, spintronics are being developed for advanced data storage and transfer methods, particularly in the field of quantum computing.

If the research team proves the material’s assumed super-hardness, then we will be able to see the ‘impossible’ materials being used commercially within five years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic