It sounds like something out of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Just grab your aerodynamic levitator, point a few laser beams, and magically turn cement into “liquid metal.” Huh? It sounds crazy, but a few details bring clarity to the process. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) have actually created a process that can transform cement into a semiconductor glass-like substance that behaves like metal.
* The most important result of the transformation process is the ability to turn liquid cement into a semiconductor. This is why the substance gets the label “liquid metal,” because it behaves like metal. It is not actually a silvery-moving metal such as the imaginary stuff that was dreamed up for the Terminator movies.
* One of the main benefits of using the glassy metallic substance is that it is less corrosive than traditional metal, while being less brittle than traditional glass. The process creates a substance that exists somewhere in the best of both worlds of glass and metal, plus additional benefits. It also has low energy loss, conductivity and fluidity for easy processing and molding.
* The process involves taking a component of alumina cement called mayenite and melting it at 3,632 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 Celsius) inside something called an aerodynamic levitator. A carbon dioxide laser is used for heating. The levitator prevents the hot liquid from touching any surface, which could cause it to form crystals. The liquid can therefore cool into the glassy state that traps electrons in cage-like structures that form in the glass, allowing the material to conduct electricity similar to the way metal conducts electricity.
* One of the many applications of the liquid metal formed from liquid cement is as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays (LCD). Many computer monitors and TVs are made with LCDs.
* According to the ANL, scientists from ANL worked with scientists from the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute/SPring-8 to create the new technology. Scientists Benmore and Shinji Kohara from the Japanese team led the effort.
* Previously, only metal could be transformed into a metallic-glass material. For cement to take on this form, researchers at ANL explain that a process called electron trapping must be used. Learning how cement can make this transformation opened up new doors for transforming other insulating materials into similar substances.
* The scientists at ANL processed the material in various atmospheres to control the way oxygen would bond in the resulting glass-like substance. They also used other experimental techniques and analyzed each one using a supercomputer to determine the best technique for creating the optimum material for conducting electricity at room temperature.