Once believed to be entirely the domain of artificial making, quasicrystals have started popping up in a natural setting albeit very slowly with scientists at Princeton finding the third ever quasicrystal from a meteorite.
The quasicrystal, which is composed of aluminium, copper and iron, was found in the same meteorite which gave us the previous two quasicrystals and according to the team behind the study it proves that the quasicrystals can occur in nature and that they are not too fragile and unstable. While scientists have created over 100 quasicrystals in labs under high temperature and pressure conditions, the natural occurrence of these quasicrystals indicate that they might be present in deep layers of Earth where there are right levels of temperature and pressure.
Study’s lead author Professor Paul Steinhardt, from Princeton University, revealed that the quasicrystal was found in the same meteorite in which the previous two quasicrystals were discovered. It was also found that all these crystals had a distinctive atomic structure and the latest discovered quasicrystal got a new chemical composition which is being observed for the first time. Researchers used an electron microprobethe to confirm that it was a never before seen quasicrystal. They add in the report that the quasicrystal was formed naturally and is likely a result of impact-induced shock in space.
The first ever quasicrystal was found in 2009 and at the time researchers thought that the structures were too fragile and energetically unstable to be formed by natural processes.
Quasicrystals are unique and very rare because of their atomic structure, which showcases properties of a shapeless solid and symmetrical quality of a crystal. They are almost crystals, but the major difference is that they don’t follow the rules followed by crystals – meaning that they have an unorthodox arrangement of atoms. In crystals atoms are arranged in perfectly neat patterns; however, in case of quasicrystals patterns never repeat.
Scientists have managed to create over 100 quasicrystals in lab, but never ever has been a quasicrystal found on Earth. The two previous ones found though natural have been found from the same meteorite that smashed into Earth at the remote region of northeastern Russia.
Quasicrystals put a huge dent in the belief that scientists knew about every possible shapes and form of matter that could be made and that quasicrystals are impossible to be formed. Quasicrystals are very hard, have low friction, and don’t conduct heat very well — making them good candidates for applications such as protective coatings on items ranging from airplanes to non-stick cookware.
The study is published in Scientific Reports.