A quasicrystal newly discovered created by the first nuclear explosion it could one day help scientists better understand illicit nuclear explosions and curb nuclear proliferation.
“Understanding the nuclear weapons of other countries requires that we have a clear understanding of your nuclear test programs“, has said it’s a statement Terry C. Wallace, director emeritus of the LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) and co-author of the article on the discovery, published in PNAS.
“We typically look at radioactive waste and gases to understand how weapons were built or what materials they contained, but those signatures disintegrate. A quasicrystal that forms at the site of a nuclear explosion can potentially provide us with new types of information, and it will exist forever “, has indicated.
The newly discovered material was accidentally formed in the explosion of the first atomic bomb test -in the so-called Trinity Site (New Mexico) on July 16, 1945- which resulted in the melting of the surrounding sand, test tower, and copper transmission lines into a glassy material known as trinitite. Quasicrystals are exotic materials that break the rules of classic crystalline materials. Materials such as sugar, salt or quartz form crystals in what is known as periodic order: the atoms are arranged in a repeating pattern in three dimensions.
Quasicrystals, first discovered in the 1980s, have an atomic structure of the constituent elements, but the pattern is not periodic. The quasicrystal, created by the Trinity explosion in a sample of red trinitite, has a rotational symmetry of 5 times, which is not possible in a natural crystal. The symmetry group of the quasicrystal is the same as that of the regular 20-sided solid known as an icosahedron, and the chemistry is given by the formula Si61Cu30Ca7Fe2. This new quasicrystal is now the oldest known artificial quasicrystal, with an unmistakable timestamp (through its composition, discovery location, and radioactivity), indicating its time of origin.
“Quasicrystals are formed in extreme environments that rarely exist on Earth“said Wallace, who is also a geophysicist.” They require a traumatic event with extreme shock, temperature and pressure. We don’t usually see that, except in something as dramatic as a nuclear explosion. “The thermodynamic / shock conditions under which this quasicrystal formed are roughly comparable to those that formed the natural quasicrystals discovered in the world. Khatyrka meteorite, dating back at least hundreds of millions of years and perhaps from the beginning of the solar system.
“This quasicrystal it is magnificent in its complexity, but no one yet can tell us why it was formed this way. But someday a scientist or engineer will realize that and the scales will be removed from our eyes and we will have a thermodynamic explanation for their creation. So hopefully we can use that knowledge to better understand nuclear explosions and ultimately lead to a more complete picture of what a nuclear test represents, “said Wallace.