In a Russian Mountain Range, Unknown Forces Made Perfect "Quasicrystals"

By Eliza Strickland | June 5, 2009 8:45 am

quasicrystalIn chunks of rock quarried from a Russian mountain range, physicists have found perfect “quasicrystals,” a type of material that researchers previously thought could only be created in a lab. Quasicrystals display ordered arrangements and symmetries but are not periodic—that is, they are not defined by a single unit cell (such as a cube) that simply repeats itself in three dimensions [Scientific American]. Instead, quasicrystals have two different geometric structures that alternate, and that are organized in ways which create complex patterns and symmetries. When such a pattern is laid out in two-dimensions, the resulting design is often called Penrose tiling.

Quasicrystals were first created in the lab in 1984, and physicist Paul Steinhardt, a coauthor of the current study, says the hunt for naturally occurring quasicrystals began about 10 years ago. “The latest issue surrounding quasicrystals has been could nature ever make them? … When we make them in the lab we try very hard to make perfect quasicrystals, but nature has no such goal” [Discovery News]. The researchers put out a call to mineralogists around the world, asking them to send in likely rock samples for testing.

That call was answered by Luca Bindi, head of mineralogy at the University of Florence, Italy, who began painstakingly preparing rock samples from Steinhardt’s list of likely candidates and other metal-rich minerals, since most known quasicrystals are complex alloys of metals [Chemistry World]. One of those samples was a mineral called khatyrkite that contained tiny grains of an alloy made of aluminium, copper, and iron, and which was found in the Koryak Mountains in Siberia. As researchers explain in their study, published in Science, the khatyrkite’s diffraction patterns almost exactly matched those of synthetic quasicrystals made in the lab.

Researchers don’t yet understand what forces gave rise to the naturally occurring quasicrystals, but say that understanding the geological processes at work may help create new materials in the lab. Over the last 25 years scientists have created more than 100 different kinds of quasicrystals. Some are microns in size while others are inches across. Some are shaped almost like soccer balls, while others look like flower blossoms. They are used in non-stick surface coatings for cookware or in ball bearings [Discovery News].

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Image: Science / AAAS

  • Nick

    There’s nothing we can do that can’t be accomplished naturally, given enough time. That is not to say there will ever be enough time – just that humans can’t create things that are against the laws that govern the natural world.

    For now.

    I bet if these crystals had been discovered 20 years later they’d be called metacrystals instead of quasicrystals. :)

  • Emerson’s Brain

    What is the age of these crystals? In what type of rock were they found? In what quantity were they discovered?

    Instead of self-assumed generalizations, following a logical scientific method of assessment at the site of discovery is critical to establishing much of anything as to the crystal’s creation. Since we’ve not got any of that in this snippet, perhaps my three initial questions will be addressed in a subsequent/follow-up article.

  • robert

    As a time traveler I have seen these crystals throughout the universe.

  • Scott Houdek

    hmmmm, this could be useful, like making a spaceship that would go across the universe!
    and makes a good kevlar replacement for law enforcement too.
    who knows this is could be the beginning of a futuristic way of living and colonizing space and beyond!

    Happy Trails!

  • Dwayne

    I am a visitor from a future unknown time. The “rocks” are
    just exaust from a star ship, nothing more.

  • Robert Allen

    For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

  • Todd

    What is the chemical composition of the material? And is it consistent in specimens? Wow, this may be a new mineral. But it takes quite a bit of time to confirm that. Geologists and mineralogists take their time for confirming any new discovery. Btw, the history of the development of geology is more than fascinating for anyone interested in science.

    “Listen to the Earth, and it shall teach you” Job 13:8

  • james

    there always has to be some idiot quoting the bible when it comes down to something that has absolutely nothing to do with it. Way to take 1 single passage from a book. idiot.

  • Chief Ron

    Me thinks James is a Very Liberal person. That is when one no longer has ammunition to fight an argument or facts to bolster their position in a debate, then the Very Liberal person defaults to YELLING, and SCREAMING PROFANITIES and using DIRECT PERSONAL ATTACKS. James SHOULD “Calm Down” and research his facts, databases, and if all else fails…. GOOGLE IT!!!
    James, I have the understanding from the media that Very Liberal people ACCEPT ALL OTHER’S VIEWPOINT, without objection, thus becoming one who is caring, is sensitive to others, and is a POLITIKALLY KORRECT IDIOT!!!

  • jeremy

    hey, those rocks rock!!

  • Robert Allen

    Isaiah 32:8 But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.

    Peace be with you James

  • Tory Burch

    Understand a great your information as well as information that you show u . ohydrates .. The application extensive assist me lots. Furthermore, it is elegance.


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