An international team has managed to capture an elusive state of matter that remains stable even at room temperature. It's called a super-crystal and all it took was a laser pulse shorter than a blink of an eye.
Okay, of course it's more complicated. In the experiment, inorganic compounds were layered and "frustrated". This meant that a structure was built that did not reach the natural "preferred" crystallization states of the materials.
Because the frustrated materials floated disorderly, it was a special laser technique that helped the team expose the materials in a highly ordered state – the super-crystal.
"We seek hidden states of matter by taking matter out of its comfortable state, which we call the ground state," said material scientist Venkatraman Gopalan of Penn State.
"We do this by exciting the electrons with a photon into a higher state and then watching the material fall back to its normal state, the idea is that it is in the excited state or in a state when it does On the way to the ground state, we will find properties that we want, like new forms of polar, magnetic and electronic states. "
You ca do not make super crystals of old matter. The team used alternating layers of mononuclear lead titanate and strontium titanate arranged in a three-dimensional structure. They bred these layers on a base (substrate) of dysprosium scandium oxide whose crystals are between the size of the crystals formed by the other two materials.
With this unique design, researchers can achieve the aforementioned frustration. Lead titanate is ferroelectric, a material with positive and negative electrical poles. Strontium titanate is not ferroelectric, and since these materials were layered, the electrical polarization vectors had to curl in strange orbits to curl.
The size of the crystals in the base was the ultimate necessity: the strontium titanate tried to stretch to accommodate the size of the substrate crystals, and the lead titanate attempted to compress. The result is a peculiarly disordered, frustrated system with multiple states throughout the material.
The team then used a so-called "pump-probe" laser technique. A femtosecond pulse of blue laser "pump light" is flashed onto the structure, which excites the electrons. This is followed by the "Probe" light, a gentler impulse that reads the state of the matter.
They found that matter did not return to its disordered state as expected, but was trapped in an incident Supercalloy state indefinitely ̵
"Due to its short pulse duration, an ultrafast laser shapes excitations in materials faster than their actual response time," said material scientist Vlad Stoica of Penn State and Argonne National Laboratory.
"While such dynamic transformations were already in place, a steady-state stabilization strategy that had been explored for decades seemed previously unattainable."
A super-crystal typically has unusually large unit cells – the smallest repetitive Unity in a three-dimensional structure of a crystal.
The supercalyst obtained in this study had unit cell volumes of at least one million times more than the lead titanate and strontium titanate unit cells, all organized like soldiers in formation.  At room temperature, this formation remained stable for at least one year and could possibly remain stable indefinitely.
"For the first time, we observed this as The ultrafast laser pulse irradiation of artificially layered polar material can induce structural perfection in the long term, assuming relative interference," said the Argonne National Laboratory research team.
future realization of artificial nanomaterials unreachable with traditional production.
The research was published in Nature Materials .