Revolutionary New Method for Materials Discovery

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Scientists have developed new techniques to discover and synthesize new crystalline materials composed of two or more elements. These materials have potential uses in power, transport, and microelectronics such as particle accelerators, MRI, quantum computing, and energy efficiency.

Researchers have found ways to create new materials for use in batteries, magnets, and microelectronics.

Using just a few colors of paint, the most accomplished artist can create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. They achieve this by drawing on inspiration, past artistic knowledge, and principles learned through years of practice in the studio.

Chemists employ a similar process when developing new compounds.a team of researchers from of the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern UniversityWhen University of Chicago created a new technique for identifying and synthesizing crystalline materials containing two or more elements.

Mercouri Kanatzidis, Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University and co-appointed at Argonne University, said:

Reaction pathways from simple precursors to complex structures

Reaction pathways from simple precursors to complex structures. The final product here is a layered structure of five elements: sodium, barium, oxygen, copper and sulfur.Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

“Our inventive method arose from unconventional research into superconductors,” said Xiuquan Zhou, a postdoc at Argonne University and lead author of the paper. ,war “These are solids containing two or more elements, at least one of which is not a metal. And they become less resistant to the passage of electricity at different temperatures. anywhere, including the office of

Over the past 50 years, scientists have discovered and created many unconventional superconductors with amazing magnetic and electrical properties. Such materials have a wide range of potential applications, including improved power generation, energy transfer, and high-speed transportation. It could also be incorporated into future particle accelerators, magnetic resonance imaging systems, quantum computers, and energy-efficient microelectronics.

The team’s way of inventing begins with a solution that consists of two components. One is a very effective solvent. It dissolves and reacts with solids added to the solution. The other is a less suitable solvent. But it is there to tune the reaction to produce new solids when different elements are added. This tuning involves changing the ratio of the two components and the temperature.The temperature here is quite high from 750 degrees to 1,300 degrees[{” attribute=””>Fahrenheit.

“We are not concerned with making known materials better but with discovering materials no one knew about or theorists imagined even existed,” Kanatzidis noted. ​“With this method, we can avoid reaction pathways to known materials and follow new paths into the unknown and unpredicted.”

As a test case, the researchers applied their method to crystalline compounds made of three to five elements. As recently reported in Nature, their discovery method yielded 30 previously unknown compounds. Ten of them have structures never seen before.

The team prepared single crystals of some of these new compounds and characterized their structures at UChicago’s ChemMatCARS beamline at 15-ID-D and the X-ray Science Division’s 17-BM-B of the Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science user facility at Argonne. ​“With beamline 17-BM-B of the APS, we were able to track the evolution of the structures for the different chemical phases that formed during the reaction process,” said 17-BM-B beamline scientist Wenqian Xu.

“Traditionally, chemists have invented and made new materials relying only on knowledge of the starting ingredients and final product,” Zhou said. ​“The APS data allowed us to also take into account the intermediate products that form during a reaction.”

The Center for Nanoscale Materials, another DOE Office of Science user facility at Argonne, contributed key experimental data and theoretical calculations to the project.

And this is only the beginning of what is possible, since the method can be applied to almost any crystalline solid. It can also be applied to producing many different crystal structures. That includes multiple stacked layers, a single layer an atom thick, and chains of molecules that are not linked. Such unusual structures have different properties and are key to developing next-generation materials applicable to not only superconductors, but also microelectronics, batteries, magnets, and more.

Reference: “Discovery of chalcogenides structures and compositions using mixed fluxes” by Xiuquan Zhou, Venkata Surya Chaitanya Kolluru, Wenqian Xu, Luqing Wang, Tieyan Chang, Yu-Sheng Chen, Lei Yu, Jianguo Wen, Maria K. Y. Chan, Duck Young Chung and Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, 9 November 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05307-7

The study was funded by the DOE’s Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences program.

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