Berkeley Lab Researchers’ Work Paves the Way for Metastable Materials: Page 2 of 2

If you've ever seen a diamond you're already familiar with metastable materials. Increasingly, researchers are looking for ways to identify new metastable materials for technological applications.

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“More recently, people have become interested in amorphous metals (glassy materials with no long-range crystal structure), which are metastable; and there is another very exciting class of steels, known as high-entropy dual-phase alloys, that can be metastable and can exhibit both strength and toughness, whereas traditional steels must be either one or the other,” Sun told Design News .

There are also promising implications for pharmacology when it comes to metastable materials. For drug molecules to be bioactive, they must be dissolvable in the stomach. The simplest and most preferable way to deliver drugs is in pill form, wherein drug molecules can be packed into different crystal structures. Sometimes the lowest-energy structure is so stable that the pill can’t dissolve fast enough to release the drug molecules. In this case it’s preferable to have a metastable, higher-energy structure that dissolves more readily.

According to Berkeley Lab researchers, the most exciting potential for the work is how it will predict promising new technological materials by computation rather than expensive and time-consuming trial-and-error.

“Sometimes, the promising materials we identify are metastable – so, how do we go to the laboratory to make them, instead of the stable structure?” Sun said. “It’s well-known that the metastable structure can actually become the stable structure under different thermodynamic conditions (temperatures, pressures, size, electrochemical voltage, etc.) We propose to synthesize predicted metastable structures under conditions where they are stable, and then retain them as ‘remnants’ of those conditions. We termed this concept ‘remnant metastability.’ ”

Dr. Sun noted that there is still a long way to go, and the researchers will continuously work with experimentalists to compare their predicted theories with experimental observations. The research group is involved in a large theory/experiment collaboration across numerous universities, called the Center for Next Generation Materials by Design: Incorporating Metastability . They will attempt to synthesize new metastable materials while refining their understanding of fundamental synthesis science.

Tracey Schelmetic graduated from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. and began her long career as a technology and science writer and editor at Appleton & Lange, the now-defunct medical publishing arm of Simon & Schuster. Later, as the editorial director of telecom trade journal Customer Interaction Solutions (today Customer magazine) she became a well-recognized voice in the contact center industry. Today, she is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing and technology, telecommunications, and enterprise software.

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