Lasers turn cement into liquid metal
May 28th, 2013
04:52 PM ET

Lasers turn cement into liquid metal

By Doug Gross, CNN

Not all scientists compare themselves favorably to the lead-to-gold alchemists of King Arthur's day.

Then again, not all scientists say they've figured out a way to zap cement with a laser and turn it into metal.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory announced this week that they have unraveled a formula to do just that. The discovery, they say, opens up cheap, common cement as a material that could be used in the electronics world to make things like computer chips or thin films and other protective coatings.

“This new material has lots of applications, including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays - basically the flat panel computer monitor that you are probably reading this from at the moment,” said Chris Benmore, a physicist from Argonne who worked with a team of scientists from Japan, Finland and Germany on the project.

The metallic glass material that results from the process has both better resistance to corrosion than regular metal and is less breakable than regular glass, the researchers say.

This change demonstrates a unique way to make metallic-glass material, which has positive attributes including better resistance to corrosion than traditional metal, less brittleness than traditional glass, conductivity, low energy loss in magnetic fields, and fluidity for ease of processing and molding. Previously, only metals have been able to transition to a metallic-glass form.

In the process, researchers melted mayenite - a component of cement made of calcium and aluminum oxides - at temperatures of 2,000 degrees Celsius using a carbon dioxide laser beam. By keeping the piping hot material in an aerodynamic levitator, they were able to keep it from touching the sides of its container until it cooled into a glassy state.

Until now, only metals were able to be melted into a metallic-glass form. They say their discovery could lead to finding other materials that can be turned into semi-conductors.

Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech
soundoff (32 Responses)
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    July 29, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  2. Daniel McNamara

    And the company that is producing this commercially is called Liquid Metal Technologies,Inc. Ticker symbol LQMT.... Have deals with Apple,Swatch and more. Time to pad your nest egg

    July 7, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply
  3. Jason Gray

    "researchers melted mayenite – a component of cement made of calcium and aluminum oxides"

    "Until now, only metals were able to be melted into a metallic-glass form"

    You do realize that calcium and aluminum are both metals right?

    May 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • Patrick McSwain


      May 29, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • animedanv2

      so our teeth is made out of metal then YAY now we all can be jaws from james bond

      May 29, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Reply
    • Sondra Sneed

      Gee, no, I had no idea calcium was a metal. That's enough "news" to actually get me interested in chemistry. Thanks for that, Jason!

      June 12, 2013 at 11:03 am | Reply
  4. timr

    oh great another new weapon for towelheads to get their grubby hands on to melt our towers and bridges down...

    May 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Say it ain't so

      way to go giving them the idea- 👍

      May 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Reply
    • Sondra Sneed

      Kevlar heads are equally amused by toys of war.

      June 12, 2013 at 11:05 am | Reply
  5. Gadgets

    Tomorrow's follow-up article: "Chinese hackers steal secret formula for turning cement into glass from US military lab."

    May 29, 2013 at 2:43 am | Reply
  6. Rb

    So either transparent aluminum eventually or the t-1000 from the Terminator. Either way, this tech sounds cool.

    May 29, 2013 at 1:07 am | Reply
    • T Grown

      Transparent Aluminum already exists, where have you been??

      May 29, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  7. Dr. Evil

    Sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads! Is that so much to ask for?

    May 29, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply
  8. Daniel McNamara

    You know what the best part about this little known secret wonder metal? It is still a penny stock which whom apple has a license deal with to produce consumer electronics. Liquid Metal Technologies,Inc. is the company, ticker symbol LQMT. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah

    May 28, 2013 at 9:33 pm | Reply
    • Neighbor Zach

      Thanks for the tip, Dan. Send my best to Karen and Robin.

      May 28, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • Jeff K

      Read the news. That stock is junk. President & CEO stepped down due to fraud investigation?

      Are you pumping the stock because you own shares?????

      May 29, 2013 at 11:53 am | Reply
  9. Rud Istvan

    You have to get your science writers to understand science. This post is seriously misinformed BS. The Argonne PR you feebly attempt to paraphrase shows this clearly.

    May 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  10. Matthew Christian

    So, it's not cement, it's a mineral used in (among other things) cement. And the "liquid metal" is not metal, it's still a metal-based mineral. And the recent scientific publications about vitreous materials not being liquid after all gets ignored. But other than that the headline "Lasers turn cement into liquid metal" is perfectly accurate.

    Good to see CNN is keeping its journalistic standards as high as ever.

    May 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Reply
    • Vyradder

      Yes, the dumbing down of science articles get really old on CNN.

      May 29, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
    • keep clicking

      They don't have to be accurate, they only need to get you to click on the articles.
      You're still reading and you'll click the next insane headline tomorrow.

      May 29, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  11. burbanktj

    until we put laser beams on cats, I won't be impressed.

    May 28, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
    • Cal

      You mean sharks.

      May 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
      • Baycap

        No, that's been done already.

        May 28, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  12. S0MA

    material engineering researches have known for the better part of a century that 'transition' states of metal elements would change the world. the use of optics to heat AND cool materials in order to control the atoms has been implemented since the 70s...

    aluminum oxides [Al203, natch] are used in everything from smartphones to ballistic windows on armored vehicles.

    the term 'glass' is colloquially referring to the amorphous state of materials that typically exhibit a useful level of transparency. the class of aluminum and calcium oxides are readily used for transparent objects; their found abundance in cement is merely coincidence anymore than to say oxygen is found in nearly everything.

    one might as well claim that scientists made amorphous non-crystallin structures "out of thin air" with lasers; [like magic] which is not too far from the truth.

    May 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  13. Sean

    Transparent Aluminum anyone?

    May 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Reply
    • S0MA

      "Transparent Aluminum anyone?"

      sure, its called synthetic sapphire... ca 1980

      May 28, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Reply
      • KP

        Metallic glass does not mean it is transparent, it refers to the lack of a crystalline structure. Sapphire is made up of alumina, making it a ceramic, not a metal. And how do you write an article on a new material without including the chemical formula or at least composition?

        May 28, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • James Davis

      I'm with you Sean, but obviously no Trekkers here. I was thinking the same thing. Bones and Scotty, RIP. Soma and KP, lighten up a bit eh?

      May 28, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Reply

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