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Liquid Metal

By spaceghoti in News
Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 07:21:25 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

CNN, that leader in news agencies, published a report on Liquidmetal, a curious metal alloy stronger than even titanium with the malleability of plastic. Intrigued, I went to the Liquidmetal website and read up on what they have to say to the public.

Anybody else having visions of Terminator 2?


Liquidmetal alloys elements that don't normally fit, like titanium, copper, nickel, zirconium and beryllium. Because these atoms don't bond well, they create an "amorphous" atomic structure without the stratified crystallization found in modern steel. Without this structure, it becomes difficult to create stress fractures and weak points in the metal. The result is essentially metal that mimics the properties of glass, and can be cast or shaped like plastic.

According to CNN, most of the more intriguing possibilities of this new alloy aren't being exploited yet in part because they're not entirely sure of its potential, and in part because they're testing it in markets where failure won't result in massive economic losses or risk to human life.

John Perepezko, professor of materials science at the University of Wisconsin, says making sports equipment is a safer place to start, than, for instance, the aircraft industry. "Nobody is going to fall out of the sky, no ship is going to sink if you make a mistake," he says. "If you break a golf club, you usually brag about being too strong, rather than blame it on a weak club."

However, Liquidmetal's website lists some other commercial and research areas where the new alloy is being tested, notably in medical, industrial and aerospace industries. For example, surgical knives made this way are said to be "sharper than steel," keep quality edges longer and last longer in general. Industrial coatings are claimed to have the "lowest coefficient of friction of any metallic coating" (meaning it requires less lubrication to guard against friction breakdown), "superior bond strengths without the use of bond coat" (stronger material without the need for additional reinforcement) and "withstand repeated thermal cycling" (can be heated and cooled repeatedly without compromising structural integrity). They further claim that NASA's Genesis spacecraft is using Liquidmetal tiles to collect isotopes in solar wind for analysis.

Liquidmetal has an inherent weakness in its melting point. The metal gets soft when heated as low as 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 Celcius), as opposed to the 2100 degrees (1150 Celcius) common steel can withstand. The company is reportedly working on different mixes of alloys to overcome the heat problem. Another issue is its price: CNN listed raw alloy at $10-$15 a pound, compared to $.50 a pound for aluminum. However, the alloy process is still in its infancy and can be expected to come down in cost as production methods (and possibly materials) improve.

What excites me most about this new technology is not the ideas already thrown out by CNN and the Liquidmetal company. I'm most intrigued by the possibilities already inherent in its properties and structure. Anyone who works with metal will tell you that the weakest point of any object is in the seams, places where two separate pieces are joined together by heat. The problem is that those pieces already have set crystallized structures, and while they have considerable strength in themselves will not join up to strengthen each other. Liquidmetal has no such crystalline structure, and will theoretically accept joining with as much strength as if the separate pieces had been cast together. Imagine an airtight capsule where a door can be opened anywhere, then closed again without compromising any safety. Imagine a wall with a door that opens and closes without a trace.

The true potential of this alloy requires a lot of research and imagination, and also depends on the technological hurdles we'll have to overcome (like heating a specific area to create an opening without warping the overall shape of the object). In the end, I'm excited by the possibilities and curious to see what applications everybody else can think of.

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Poll
Is LiquidMetal the technology of the future?
o I'm buying one of those golf clubs right now! 4%
o It'll never really catch on. 6%
o It'll be ubiquitous in our daily lives. 21%
o You'll only see it in industrial processes. 11%
o Only ubergeeks will ever care, or use it. 13%
o It'll make Rusty an anachronism. 42%

Votes: 61
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
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o Liquidmeta l
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o Also by spaceghoti


Display: Sort:
Liquid Metal | 43 comments (40 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
beryllium and knives dont add up. (4.40 / 5) (#2)
by The Amazing Idiot on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 02:10:45 AM EST

Beryllium (in its many forms) is a rather nasty poision. Do your sources mention this fact and would that compound be used in the surgical knives? I'd be very hesisitant to even touch that stuff, let alone have a knife coated with it.

Other than "Wicked cool", very good article. The interjection seems out of place.

Sodium and chlorine (4.50 / 6) (#4)
by paine in the ass on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 02:20:56 AM EST

are poisonous, too, you know.


I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.
[ Parent ]

yeah, but (none / 0) (#23)
by erp6502 on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 03:19:06 PM EST

... they form ionic bonds, which are much stronger than metallic (covalent) bonds.

Mammalian chemistry works with and depends on the Na+ and Cl- ions. Just try to send an action potential down an axon without a local concentration of Na+ ions for uptake, or a Cl- imbalance to keep the cell at 70 mV below its environmental chemical potential. On the other hand, you'll totally gum up the works with a big, fat, friendly Be atom.

[ Parent ]

yeah, but (none / 0) (#28)
by paine in the ass on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 11:15:09 PM EST

The point, which I'd hoped was obvious, was that while sodium and chlorine are poisonous, they're perfectly harmless and even beneficial when mixed with other elements, even each other. The poster in the parent comment appeared to think that simply because an element is poisonous in isolation, it would also be poisonous in any mixture, compound, alloy, etc. made from it, and I chose a simple example to illustrate that such an assumption is faulty. Whether beryllium mixed with other elements would be safe or not is beyond the scope of my chemical knowledge; I was simply making a general point.


I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.
[ Parent ]

I don't have an answer for you. (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by spaceghoti on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 02:33:31 AM EST

The list of elements came from CNN, and nothing I saw in Liquidmetal's website discussed the composition of the alloy. I assume either the alloy process makes the beryllium sufficiently inert to be used in medical procedures, or it's left out for surgical instruments.

I put in the "wicked cool" because I couldn't think of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, I'm not trying to write professionally.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
beryllium dangers (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by MrSpey on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 10:26:02 AM EST

Beryllium is only dangerous if you ingest or inhale it in dust form. As long as you aren't grinding lots of this stuff up (which you shouldn't be, you should be casting it) you'll be fine. Even if a surgical blade breaks in half during surgery there shouldn't be any sort of problem.

Mr. Spey

[ Parent ]
No-ho-ho, Nakamura! (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by jet_silver on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 12:56:40 PM EST

Beryllium is an implantation hazard as well as an inhalation hazard. Google "beryllium wound" for LANL, UCSD and other sources on this. It apparently interferes with coagulation and makes healing incredibly difficult.

The reason why beryllium-copper alloy, commonly used in electrical contacts, is not an implantation hazard is the very fact it's alloyed with the copper. Beryllium alloys have been used for decades without causing trouble of this kind, and the earliest indication of the wound danger was the beryllium oxide that was used in early fluorescent tubes.
"What they really fear is machine-gunning politicians becoming a popular sport, like skate-boarding." -Nicolas Freeling
[ Parent ]

Beryllium poisionious when inhaled (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by koz on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 10:33:52 AM EST

Beryllium (MSDS) is toxic only when ground up into a powder and inhaled. Something like 10% of the population will have an allergic reaction to the powder in the lungs, developing berylliosis . Beryllium doesn't present much of a problem in solid chunks (I've held it in my hand), or alloyed in metals.

[ Parent ]
Everything's poisonous (none / 0) (#29)
by BLU ICE on Fri Jul 12, 2002 at 01:56:54 AM EST


Beryllium (in its many forms) is a rather nasty poision.

Incidentally, nickel is a potent poison and strong carcinogen. However, it only is a problem if you grind up the 5 cent coin in your pocket and inhale it. I suspect beryllium in liquid metal is the same way.

"Is the quality of this cocaine satisfactory, Mr. Delorean?"
"As good as gold."

-- I am become Troll, destroyer of threads.
It's like an encyclopedia...sorta: Everything2

[ Parent ]

There's also the matter of allergies (none / 0) (#43)
by Quila on Mon Jul 22, 2002 at 04:14:12 AM EST

Many people are allergic to various metals, and LiquidMetal being a mish-mash of many may limit its uses. For example, my wife is allergic to nickel, so can't use surgical steel piercings or any kind of implants.

[ Parent ]
huh erm..... (3.80 / 5) (#3)
by auraslip on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 02:15:20 AM EST

"lowest coefficient of friction of any metallic coating"
Metal dildos/condoms/luberication anyone?

actaully though, think of coating the inside of your car engine with this.
124

melting point (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by mpalczew on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 10:27:36 AM EST

> actaully though, think of coating the inside of your car engine with this.
remember the melting point is only 750F
-- Death to all Fanatics!
[ Parent ]
Until you turn it off. (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by Verminator on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 12:53:19 PM EST

What happens when you turn off you car and the metal resolidifies? I don't imagine you'd want to heat up your engine to 750 C prior to ignition.

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to misery, misery links to Satanosphere.
[ Parent ]

What? (4.00 / 3) (#18)
by QuickFox on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 10:32:25 AM EST

Metal condoms? I'm afraid you've misunderstood the meaning of hard-on.

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fi
[ Parent ]
Liquid Metal? (none / 0) (#7)
by Talez on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 03:00:56 AM EST

Like Mercury? :P

Si in Googlis non est, ergo non est
In an odd way, yes. (none / 0) (#8)
by spaceghoti on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 03:06:22 AM EST

Except it can be cast like plastic to retain its shape, and (with the exception of beryllium) not poison human flesh. It cools without the lattice structure you find in steel. I don't pretend to fully understand the process; the company is keeping the details under wraps.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Liquid Metal? Can I drink it? (3.00 / 2) (#9)
by johwsun on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 03:16:49 AM EST



Sure, why not? (none / 0) (#10)
by spaceghoti on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 03:18:54 AM EST

You could have the modern equivalent of a cast-iron stomach.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Similar to solder? (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by Mickey Kantor on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 05:34:07 AM EST

The metal gets soft when heated as low as 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 Celcius).

This entire "liquid metal" reminds me a lot of solder. Solder, to my knowledge, can be cast and it is extremely malleable(sp?). I probably sound like a total idiot, so could someone please point out what I'm missing? Thanks. Btw, +1, good read.

What you're missing (5.00 / 2) (#15)
by miller on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 08:26:28 AM EST

Apparently this metal is liquid like glass is, not like hot solder is. It's always liquid (well, unless you do below its freezing point) but is viscose enough at room temperature to retain its shape. It's also very strong (like glass), though I'd be surprised if it wasn't also fragile like glass due to a lack of internal consitent structure.

Solder on the other hand is pretty unremarkable except for that it's solid at room temperature yet has a low melting point. As a solid it's pretty brittle and malleable and so can't be used to make large structures that will last.

I remain to be convinced about this liquid metal - at least until I see some more details and they think up a proper name for it. But if it does do what they say and is inert and durable enough this could be a big deal.

--
It's too bad I don't take drugs, I think it would be even better. -- Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

always liquid? (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by elderogue on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 03:28:17 PM EST

please pardon my ignorance, but...

if it's liquid at room temperature, why is the melting point 750 degrees?

what's the difference between a very viscous liquid and a solid?

if the molecules don't form a rigid lattice when cooled, how can it be stronger than titanium? isn't that what gives metals their strength?


-e
[ Parent ]

Mistake in article (none / 0) (#26)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 07:17:36 PM EST

if it's liquid at room temperature, why is the melting point 750 degrees

It gets "soft" at 750 degrees, according to the site. The article incorrectly describes that as its melting point. One of the big selling points of this thing is that it doesn't phase transition as it goes from malleable to hard.

[ Parent ]

Er... no. (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by pla on Fri Jul 12, 2002 at 01:28:12 PM EST

Apparently this metal is liquid like glass is, not like hot solder is. It's always liquid (well, unless you do below its freezing point) but is viscose enough at room temperature to retain its shape.

Okay, everyone repeat after me:

Amorphous solid != liquid.

Glass does not stay "liquid with a high viscosity" at room temperature. Glass does not "flow", not even over centuries (the common example involving old windows results from manufacturing limitations rather than the glass itself).

More technically, although it does not exibhit a first order phase transition (what we normally consider "freezing" in materials such as water), it *does* have a second order transition (meaning that, not only does it not stay a liquid, we can't call it a supercooled liquid either). This subtle difference gives rise to glass not having a sharp point at which it "freezes", but it still turns into a solid below a given range nonetheless.


[ Parent ]
Very Hollywood (4.66 / 3) (#13)
by nicklott on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 06:00:43 AM EST

...the liquid metal site I mean.
Looks like it relies very heavily on marketing, which always makes me suspicious: If the product is that good why do you need lots of flashing lights and whizzy things to sell it?

Hollywood (none / 0) (#14)
by spaceghoti on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 08:26:26 AM EST

Most corporate sites I've seen have that Hollywood look. Marketing follows trends, and the marketing trend right now is for flashy websites with pretty pictures and streaming video.

The site itself is relatively content free, but invites investors to get involved and makes some interesting claims (such as their involvement with the NASA Genesis probe) that could get them into serious trouble if fraudulent. The information they provide is intended to entice investors and attract customers without revealing their secrets. At this point I'm only speculating, but I don't hold the "gee-whiz" factor against them. It's a tactic I see all the time on all sorts of sites.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
imaginative ideas (4.66 / 3) (#20)
by mikeliu on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 12:09:27 PM EST

Liquidmetal has no such crystalline structure, and will theoretically accept joining with as much strength as if the separate pieces had been cast together. Imagine an airtight capsule where a door can be opened anywhere, then closed again without compromising any safety. Imagine a wall with a door that opens and closes without a trace.

Hmm, I'm not material science major, but I see a major problem with this.  The problem is that joins will still require a lot of heat.  750 degrees is a fairly low melting point in one sense, but in another, it's incredibly high.  For what you propose, it seems like you want to repeatedly melt and re-join the metal in arbitrary locations?  Even if the metal lives up to all its promises that seems pretty difficult with the technology level we're at now.  Certainly we need great advances in nano-technology before we could even attempt something like that it seems like.  And even then, do we really want a door that heats up to 750 degrees before it opens and closes?

After all, the big comparisons for its properties are it can be cast like plastic and is fluid like glass.  With the emphasis on the fluid like glass part.  Unless I'm missing something, we already have a material that has behaviors like what you're looking for, glass, and we have yet to even approach the level of technological sophistication where we could have windows that open and close their actual structure in arbitrary points...

Ummm, bicycles... (none / 0) (#34)
by MalTheElder on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 02:15:15 AM EST

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...don't work well when made of glass, but the titanium alloy frames are almost as strong as steel, and much lighter.  Glass frames would just shatter (ook ook!).  Actually, someone made a prototype frame of beryllium a few years back.  Expensive as hell and not practical, but it can be done.  Obscenely lightweight, too.  Betcha Lance would dance over the Alps on a frame like that!

Happy Weekend,
  Thumper

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[ Parent ]

I think where he was going with that was.... (none / 0) (#35)
by sawilson on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 03:59:31 AM EST

They are already working on an alloy with a higher
melting temp. It's conceivable they could make one
with an even lower temp and retain high strength.
What I find intriguing is this could be the path
towards a truly transparent metal. That technology
could serve us long into the future until we
obviate it with something else, like near perfect
visual reconstruction of distant interacting
areas of matter based on the buzzes and chirps
and vibes their collection of atoms makes and
propogates.



Sig:(This is your diatribe full of your titles and lame beliefs and causes so men are impressed with you and women want to bear your children)
[ Parent ]
Armour and Swords (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by Chiascuro on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 04:41:44 PM EST

Can you imagine a suit of armour made from this stuff, lighter because it's stronger than steel. Swords even, with a better edge. Only problem would be if it's fragile but maybe you can mix it with something more flexible to reduce that.

I agree (5.00 / 2) (#27)
by MMcP on Thu Jul 11, 2002 at 09:53:35 PM EST

We should resume medieval warfare as soon as possible :)

[ Parent ]
mmmmmmm....katana!! ;) (nt) (none / 0) (#39)
by Jel on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 01:28:02 PM EST


...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]
Advertizing... on the Internet no less. (4.50 / 2) (#30)
by confrontationman on Fri Jul 12, 2002 at 02:23:32 AM EST

This information is extremely misleading. Most alloys have the malleability of plastic. At the right temperature and depending on what kind of plastic you're talking about.

Now having said that, I saw a brief demonstration of the material in question at a nanotech conference in DC earlier this year. It does display some rather interesting qualities. They had a ball (either made of the stuff or coated with it, I forget which) bouncing on a metal plate (maybe the same stuff, maybe not). It took for ever to stop bouncing, and even then it kept on vibrating.

I would rather not venture into what kind of fantastic devices one might use such an interesting property for, but they did mention some other intersting properties which may or may not be usefull (I forget what they were).

They also had no idea what they were going to do with it, but my guess is that the "airtight capsule where a door can be opened anywhere" idea isn't going to happen as we can't do that with glass (at least, not very quickly or without making a big mess).

P.S. You may be wondering why this was being displayed and a nanotech conference. That is because all the projects doing nanotech were displaying materials with interesting molecular structures. Why? Because they didn't have any "real" nanotech stuff that is actually useful.

P.P.S. Speaking of intersting materials, the stuff on materials using carbon nanotubes (i.e. kevlar and carbon nanotube mesh) is much more promising not to mention intersting.



Well.. (none / 0) (#32)
by Khedak on Fri Jul 12, 2002 at 07:36:09 PM EST

They also had no idea what they were going to do with it, but my guess is that the "airtight capsule where a door can be opened anywhere" idea isn't going to happen as we can't do that with glass (at least, not very quickly or without making a big mess).

In fairness, this is probably because nobody cares about making such a container, when standard closing containers will do the job. What is the advantage to actually sealing the container shut? The same goes for liquid metal containers. We can make airlocks and other airtight structures using standard mechanical techniques. Why bother with the logistical difficulty of effectively welding the door shut and torching it open again on every use?

[ Parent ]
Why I thought this was a good idea: (none / 0) (#33)
by spaceghoti on Fri Jul 12, 2002 at 08:22:29 PM EST

What is the advantage to actually sealing the container shut?

My thought was structural integrity. If I read the description right on this alloy, it can be worked on after casting without the problems inherent with crystalline lattice structures. Once you cut through the lattice, it can never be restored with the strength it had before. This has no lattice structure, and therefore can be modified without compromising integrity. Thus you can have doors that seal without additional material, cutting down on overall weight and complexity.

Clearly it's just a concept now, but I thought the applications for operation in high pressure environments requiring airtight containment to be remarkable.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
I'm not sure I follow, but... (none / 0) (#36)
by Jel on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 07:16:34 AM EST

This is all a bit beyond me, but are you guys discussing a smooth metal surface which a door could be burnt out of, and fused back into?  Like in those UFO films, where doors open from a seemingly solid wall??
...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]
Yep. (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by Khedak on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 12:00:35 PM EST

Yeah, that's what we're discussing. Spaceghoti pointed out that with this material, you wouldn't need to burn off any material to "open" the door, and you wouldn't need to add anything to "seal" it. Additionally, it would structurally act like a seamless single piece when the door is closed, as opposed to even the best machined doors which still behave like several pieces jointed together.

[ Parent ]
That's interesting, thanks :) (nt) (none / 0) (#40)
by Jel on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 02:41:51 PM EST


...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]
You get the gold star! (none / 0) (#41)
by spaceghoti on Sun Jul 14, 2002 at 05:55:02 AM EST

That's exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you for helping clarify.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Wind-up cars (none / 0) (#37)
by macemoneta on Sat Jul 13, 2002 at 09:48:18 AM EST

With the strength and ability to store kinetic energy this material has, it might be possible to make an alternative fuel vehicle that uses stored kinetic energy: a wind-up car!  You could wind it using a (heavily geared, high current) electric motor, so you would be storing the electrical energy as kinetic energy.  Zero emissions.

Same problem as flywheels (none / 0) (#42)
by epepke on Sun Jul 21, 2002 at 03:37:50 AM EST

The trouble with this is, what happens when you get into an accident severe enough to crack the casing, and all the energy of the spring gets released at once? The answer is not an awful lot of fun for anybody in the vicinity.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
Liquid Metal | 43 comments (40 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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