Vermont University scientists have created a new form of silver that’s not only the world’s strongest, but also a new record setter when it comes to the theoretical limit of the metal.
According to the scientists, the new metal paves way for super-strong, conducting materials benefiting both the aerospace and solar industries.
They claim that its 42% stronger than the previous world record. But this isn’t its chief selling point, notes professor Frederic Sansoz, who co-led the new discovery.
“We’ve discovered a new mechanism at work at the nanoscale that allows us to make metals that are much stronger than anything ever made before – while not losing any electrical conductivity.”
According to Sansoz, this breakthrough promises a new category of materials that can overcome a traditional trade-off in industrial and commercial materials between strength and ability to carry electrical current.
All metals have defects. Often these defects lead to undesirable qualities, like brittleness or softening.
This has led scientists to create various alloys or heavy mixtures of material to make them stronger.
One drawback however is that as they get stronger, they lose their electrical conductivity.
The Vermont team along with LLNL lead scientist and co-author of the new study, Morris Wang, thus sought to make a material that possesses both defects and electroconductivity.
By mixing a trace amount of copper into the silver, the team showed it can transform two types of inherent nanoscale defects into a powerful internal structure – because impurities are directly attracted to defects, explains Sansoz.
In other words, the team used a copper impurity – a form of doping or ‘microalloy’ as the scientists style it – to control the behavior of defects in silver.
Like a kind of atomic-scale jiu-jitsu, the scientists flipped the defects to their advantage, using them to both strengthen the metal and maintain its electrical conductivity.
Sansoz believes this new approach can also be applied to many other metals too.
Image and content: Joshua Brown/University of Vermont