Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Technology Science

Transparent Aluminum Is "New State of Matter" 406

Professor_Quail writes with this interesting excerpt: "Oxford scientists have created a transparent form of aluminum by bombarding the metal with the world's most powerful soft X-ray laser. 'Transparent aluminum' previously only existed in science fiction, featuring in the movie Star Trek IV, but the real material is an exotic new state of matter with implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Transparent Aluminum Is "New State of Matter"

Comments Filter:
  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) * on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:01PM (#28854787) Homepage

    This is a great breakthrough. This means that we can now wear full face tinfoil hats for even more protection without risking to bump into something anymore. Thanks that tinfoil hats are actually made of aluminum nowadays ! ;-))

    Imagine the progress for this brave user: []

    Tinfoil hats are made of aluminum: []

    • by lorenlal ( 164133 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:03PM (#28854829)
      But can we be sure that this is the guy who actually invented it?
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:11PM (#28855005) Homepage

        A "keyboard"... how quaint.

      • by dontmakemethink ( 1186169 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:03PM (#28855865)

        But can we be sure that this is the guy who actually invented it?

        I know what you mean! I invented the time machine, then it turns out my wife had already patented it a year earlier! Guess that means she's going to find out I've been tapping her sister...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:27PM (#28855259)

      Tin foil hats are made from tin foil. If you're using aluminum foil, you're making an aluminum foil hat.

      Incidentally, aluminum is not very effective at blocking the government's mind control rays. Why do you think they replaced tin foil with aluminum foil? Luckily I stocked up decades ago, but anyone who thinks aluminum foil will protect them is playing right into the government's hands.

      Posting anonymously for obvious reasons.

    • Fantastic! Now all we have to do to avoid the government pummeling our heads with powerful X-ray lasers is to... uh... pummel our heads with powerful X-ray lasers.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:39PM (#28855431) Homepage Journal

      I saw this at New Scientist [] yesterday and almost submitted it, until I actually read the article. The bombardment that makes it transparent only lasts for fractions of a nanosecond before the foil is comlpetely destroyed. A few commenters there pointed to some wikipedia articles with other transparent metals. One commenter said

      I always thought the "transparent aluminum" of Startrek was a tongue-in-cheek thing - on the basis that it has existed both naturally and man-made for donkeys years. Ok, it is aluminium OXIDE (sapphire) instead of JUST aluminium - but it is transparent, incredibly strong, extremely hard and is made out of nowt more exotic than aluminium and oxygen.

      Ruby the same of course but with a few chromium atoms bunged in for good measure and a nice red tint.

      Then there's Aluminium oxynitride [] which comes far closer to the Star Trek windows:

      Aluminium oxynitride (AlON) is a transparent ceramic composed of aluminium, oxygen and nitrogen. It is marketed under the name ALON and described in U.S. Patent 4,520,116. The material remains solid up to 1,200 C (2,190 F), and is harder than glass. When formed and polished as a window, the material currently (2005) costs about US$10 to US$15 per square inch (~ US$20,000/m).

      It is currently the crucial outer layer of experimental transparent armor being considered by the US Air Force for the windows of armored vehicles. Other applications include semiconductors and retail fixtures.

      Transparent ceramics: []

      Most ceramic materials, such as alumina and its compounds, are formed from fine powders, yielding a fine grained polycrystalline microstructure which is filled with scattering centers comparable to the wavelength of visible light. Thus, they are generally opaque materials, as opposed to transparent materials. Recent nanoscale technology has, however, made possible the production of polycrystalline transparent ceramics such as transparent alumina.

      The value of the work described in TFA isn't that they made transparent aluminum, but

      for an instant, Wark and his team can create a new state of matter that is as dense as ordinary solid matter, but extremely hot. "That is the sort of matter you would get towards the centre of a giant planet," says Wark.

      The team hopes to study the properties of this hot, dense matter using new, more powerful lasers such as the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford, California. These lasers produce higher-energy X-rays that could probe the structure of the new material and measure its properties - perhaps providing some insight into the heart of Jupiter and the other giant planets.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Sure, you can see right through it ... assuming your eyes work with "extreme ultraviolet radiation".
  • Frankly (Score:5, Funny)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:05PM (#28854875)

    I just can't see it.

  • "Tansparent" (Score:5, Informative)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:06PM (#28854897)

    If I got TFA right, it's only transparent to ultraviolets, through a tiny hole, and for a few femtoseconds. I'm sure it's great news but it's a bit over my head, and it's definitely nothing as cool as I was picturing.

    • That's my read too.

      This part of the summary was particularly misleading:

      "but the real material is an exotic new state of matter with implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion.""

      it should be changed to this:

      "but the real material is an exotic new state of matter with implications for research into planetary science and nuclear fusion."

    • Re:"Tansparent" (Score:5, Informative)

      by furby076 ( 1461805 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:26PM (#28855253) Homepage
      Typically, in research, the first hurdle is to get a repeatable and reliable test case that has almost no practical use (ala this situation). Once they accomplish that hurdle (also sometimes referred to as proof of concept) they can proceed to make it last longer (e.g. make it permenant), make it work better (e.g. invisible to the visible spectrum), make it cheaper for mass production (e.g. so we can build large versions of these) and then continue other improvements.

      Basically this was a HUGE hurdle - they were able to show this is possible. Now they will get more funding and they can continue...hopefully we will see (or in this case not see) invisible alumnimum in the future and eventually other items.

      BTW - similar systems (recent article) was the Green diode laser. Now with green diode lasers we will eventually have TVs using lasers to draw our images.
      • Re:"Tansparent" (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Thaelon ( 250687 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:24PM (#28856187)

        I would say that a microscopic hole that is transparent for a few femtoseconds to a small slice of the magnetic spectrum is more of a proof of potential possibility than a proof of concept of what the phrase "transparent aluminum" brings to mind.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        See, your comment is a perfect example of the cancer that is "science" journalism. This experimental result is in no way something that could ever be made into windows or body armour. This was a misconception due to certain words (like transparent) having rigorous meanings in the scientific community.

        A suitable analogy: Journalist reads wikipedia page on the stanford Z-Machine, sees "wires move fast". Could this be the next step in automatic cheese-slicing technology? No.

        Another analogy: The superheated pla

  • Thats a whale of a claim.

  • Temporary (Score:5, Informative)

    by drunken_boxer777 ( 985820 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:09PM (#28854957)

    Not to diminish their accomplishments, but from TFA:

    This turned the aluminium nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation.
    Whilst the invisible effect lasted for only an extremely brief period - an estimated 40 femtoseconds - it demonstrates that such an exotic state of matter can be created using very high power X-ray sources.

    So this doesn't quite have as broad a nerd appeal as the summary would lead us to believe.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) *
      Very temporary. I think the biggest thing here is what the researchers speculate can be done with this. I submitted a story [] after this guy but I'll just past the firehose here because I'm lazy:

      Star Trek's transparent aluminum [] has already been realized [] by heating aluminum but Oxford scientists claim to have found a new state of matter [] while making transparent aluminum. The laser in use is the FLASH laser, based in Hamburg, Germany and each brief pulse of X-Ray energy it releases is 'more powerful than the output of a power plant that provides electricity to a whole city.' Although the new state only lasts about 40 femtoseconds, Oxford Professor Justin Wark has high hopes for this research, "Transparent aluminium is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of 'miniature stars' created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth."

      I think they're excited about the strange fusion capabilities this new state may allow them to harness. Nothing conclusive yet though.

    • Tag this: sensationalslashdot

  • by Sj0 ( 472011 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:09PM (#28854963) Journal

    Nothing in the article makes it sound very transparent in the way we'd imagine transparency. Extreme ultra-violet? Maybe, but it sure looks from the image like that transparent aluminium is at best translucent for visible spectrum light -- look at how much that laser is diffused.

  • Fashion (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by PPH ( 736903 )

    with implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion.

    And don't forget about the possibilities this will open up in terms of fashion for the foil hat crowd.

  • Al2O3 is transparent (Score:5, Informative)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:09PM (#28854973) Homepage Journal

    Sapphire glass has been common place for many decades. It is by weight a little more than half Aluminum and very transparent.

    • Yeah, I thought ALON was our Transparent Aluminum. I'd still like to see the day when they can mass produce it though.
    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )

      Probably relatively brittle though? I can't imagine it to deform first the way aluminium would.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gurps_npc ( 621217 )
      Also ruby. Same thing as sapphire, but with slightly different impurities. Oh and we already know how to artificially make both.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hadlock ( 143607 )

        I remember watching years ago (early 90's?) on PBS some show (NOVA or similar) where researchers were growing rubies in a bowl of "ruby soup" with a shard of a ruby as a starter, uh, crystal I guess. Apparently you would pop this recipe in the microwave for a half hour or so on low power and end up with a a chunk of material you could break up and grind down into a couple of 1 carat "rubies". The voiceover said they couldn't give away the recipe since it would tank the ruby market. I've googled for this mag

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Artraze ( 600366 )
          My guess would be that the recipe is based on Aluminum Hydroxide []. It melts at the fairly modest temperature of 300C and can be dissolved in acidic or strongly basic solutions. Because it is basically hydrated alumina (it's sometimes called that) it's not too hard to believe that with the right additives you could have the alumina 'condense' on to a seed crystal. For color, you'll probably also want to add chromium hydroxide.

          If you're looking to experiment, ceramic stores (i.e. pottery craft supply sto
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by vlm ( 69642 )

          The voiceover said they couldn't give away the recipe since it would tank the ruby market. I've googled for this magic recipe, but nothing's come up.

          Sounds like the kind of BS you'd see advertised in spam.


          The "ruby market" was tanked (at least the first time) in 1885.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:29PM (#28856267)
      Aluminum oxide (corundum) is a ceramic (as are all glasses) and is rather brittle. It doesn't have the malleability, ductility, and fracture toughness (plastic deformation beyond the yield strength instead of complete failure) which makes metals a desirable structural material. Currently, when we need a transparent material with these properties we use plastics, but they tend to be lower strength and much more flexible (bendy) than metals. A transparent metal would be awesome because it could serve the same function with less volume of material and less need for structural stiffening.
  • Only at certain UV spectrum, according to the article.

    It notes "core electrons" have been knocked out. I assume it's certain non-valent inner electron? Any one(s) in particular?

  • Oxford (Score:4, Funny)

    by fprintf ( 82740 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:10PM (#28854979) Journal

    Since the researchers are at Oxford, shouldn't the new material be "Aluminium"?

  • Have you wondered if that soda can over there is empty or full?

  • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:10PM (#28854983)

    world's most powerful soft X-ray laser.

    Really, unless you're talking about bathroom tissue, you really shouldn't use the term "World's most powerful" and "Soft" together.

  • Repost? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fry-kun ( 619632 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:10PM (#28854985)

    How is this different from [] ?

    • Re:Repost? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shatrat ( 855151 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:27PM (#28855257)
      Because Aluminum is an element, Alumina is a compound.
      The previous story was about a ceramic, this seems to be more of a particle physics experiment which yielded something neat for 40 femtoseconds.
    • Two different technologies to create two different materials that happen to share the same description. The 2004 story you linked to is about a product that is in production, with real world tangible benefits, and is actually transparent in the visual spectrum. The one in the current story can't claim any of that.

    • Chemically
  • Just heat aluminium to 2500+ÂC and it becomes transparent.

  • by Nautical Insanity ( 1190003 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:12PM (#28855029)

    This does not mean this process can be used to make transparent armor or other applications for super-strong glass. The article states that the x-rays wereï focused to a spot with a diameter smaller than a human hair's, the aluminum was transparent to ultraviolet, and the state lasted 40 femtoseconds. Details left out of the summary.

    Nonetheless, this is incredibly cool. The new state of matter that is being boasted about is one where a non-valent electron is removed from atoms. Very cool.

  • by syntap ( 242090 )

    There has got to be a use somewhere... boots, S&M wear, something...

  • this is proof (Score:5, Informative)

    by prgrmr ( 568806 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:14PM (#28855067) Journal
    That the slashdot editors do not RTFA either.
  • Typical. ( [] ) Make it sound all cool for they layman, but then qualify it with "This turned the aluminium nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation. " - so, transparent - sorta. Still cool and all, but you won't be savin' no whales any time soon.
  • Straight from star trek.

    This would be amazing in military applications and other defense applications. Watching the movie The Hurt Locker last night one of the guys (in the hum-v) was manning the machine gun. The top 1/3 of his body is exposed on the top of the hum-v which makes him prime pickings for incoming fire. If I was him I would want some defensive there - even very thick plexiglass (lined with metal wires)...given that is not available, this could do the trick. It may not block everything but
    • Or, you know, instead of exotic material solutions, we could simply build a remote control rig in the vehicle. Why add weight and high costs (soft X-Ray treatment,sound expensive!) to the vehicle? Let the soldier direct the gun from the inside the safety of the vehicle with a hardwired joystick and some cameras.
      • they already do this in some vehicles but it's not practical in all applications.

      • While i am down for technology control - i have to say seeing something on a tv screen is not as good as seeing it from your own eyes. Plus if that technology breaks you are screwed though if you die you are more screwed...
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:18PM (#28855113) Homepage

    short pulse from the FLASH laser 'knocked out' a core electron from every aluminum atom in a sample without disrupting the metal's crystalline structure. This turned the aluminum nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation.
    ..."Whilst the invisible effect lasted for only an extremely brief period - an estimated 40 femtoseconds..."

    OK. so they took a really powerful soft X-ray pulse source and hammered an electron out of most of the atoms in a sample of aluminum. In 40 femtoseconds (!) the electrons were replaced, but for a brief period, the material would pass "extreme ultraviolet radiation". This isn't a "new material"; it's an old material in a very transient state. They were able to do this without blasting the aluminum apart, which is the new result. On the other hand, metals can be forced into electron-deprived states without too much trouble. Ordinary vacuum tubes do this.

    The terminology here is puzzling. "Extreme ultraviolet radiation" and "soft X-rays" are in the same part of the spectrum. Does this mean that after being zapped with the giant X-ray pulse, some of the soft X-rays made it through? Or did they have two different illumination sources?

    Also see "Extreme Ultraviolet Radiation Transport in Laser-Irradiated High-Z Metal Foils" [], from 1981, where someone seems to have come close to the same phenomenon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kpainter ( 901021 )
      I wonder if I can replace my GE "soft-white" light bulbs with GE "soft X-ray" bulbs? Could be cool.
    • > On the other hand, metals can be forced into electron-deprived states without too much
      > trouble. Ordinary vacuum tubes do this.

      Ordinary vacuum tubes do not remove electrons from inner orbitals. They just knock the valence electrons off. This process removes inner electrons without disturbing the outer ones.

    • Ordinary vacuum tubes do this.

      Do "ordinary vacuum" tubes even exist any more?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bughunter ( 10093 )
      It doesn't say, but the FLASH laser is a free-electron laser, which as I understand it is continuously tunable, see here []. The FLASH wikipedia page [] says it it is tunable from 10 to 200 nm, which includes both SX and EUV parts of the spectrum.
  • 1. It's not invisible to the naked eye - only to "extreme ultraviolet radiation"
    2. It's not anything like what was described in Star Trek
    3. It's only "invisible" for milliseconds.

    Neat stuff for physicists, but not for anyone else, at the moment, as far as I can tell.
  • I don't care what it's made of. All I want to know is where this new state is located.

  • The only reason that the aluminum needed to be 'transparent' was so that the camera could show that 'there be whales here.' I'm sure the whales didn't care. All they got was a view of the inside of a Klingon Bird of Prey. Yay. :-|
  • In this week's Nature Physics an international team, led by Oxford University scientists, report that a short pulse from the FLASH laser 'knocked out' a core electron from every aluminium atom in a sample without disrupting the metal's crystalline structure.

    First we get a story about green lasers. Then something about security problems with Flash.

    And now a story about a FLASH LASER?

    Is that a huge coincidence or what?

    • No coincidence. Comic Con 2009 ended last Sunday. I look forward to stories about green arrows made from 100% recycled material, and of course this guy []
  • Typically, it is an oxide, called corundum (AL2O3). It exists naturally, although is rare and therefore expensive.

    If it has blue impurities, we call it a sapphire. Red impurities we call it a ruby.

    Morevoer, we know how to make artificial rubies and sapphires, so this is not even the first man made transparent aluminum.

  • How many times now? (Score:5, Informative)

    by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:45PM (#28855531)

    please tell me: How many time has transparent aluminium been discovered by now?
    I think about five to six times... E.g. in 2005 []

    Please don't wake me up the next time someone discovers it :-).

    CU, Martin
  • In breaking with Star Trek Canon, we discovered this before the whales went extinct.
  • by way2slo ( 151122 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:00PM (#28855807) Journal

    Sounds cool, just as long as we don't accidentally create ice-nine while making these "new states of matter".

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:06PM (#28855911) Homepage

    "The real material is an exotic new state of matter with implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion."

    To say nothing of whale transport.

  • by WML MUNSON ( 895262 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:35PM (#28856349)
    Holy shit! This is fantastic!

    I can now see what the status of my tinfoil wrapped dinner is without unwrapping it for a status check!

  • by Allicorn ( 175921 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:39PM (#28856427) Homepage


    "Transparent Aluminum a Reality!" []

    From Tuesday October 18 2005.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford