A new material appears in the soil thanks to the impact of a powerful lightning

Fulgurite quasicrystals lightning
Cross section of fulgurite, showing molten sand around metal from a downed power line during a storm. Image: Luca Bindi.

A team of researchers has discovered a new quasicrystal in a dune area in SandHills National Park in the state of NebraskaUnited States. If confirmed, this could be a historical event, as all natural quasicrystals known to date were extraterrestrial, found in meteorites.

Only a few cases of unnatural occurrence were identified in regions where they were carried out. nuclear bomb tests.

The new quasicrystal of unusual composition, was identified by Luca Bindi, a geologist at the University of Florence. The discovery, made in collaboration with researchers from Princeton University, Caltech and the University of South Florida, was published in PNAS.

Quasicrystals are very valuable industrial sectors

“Quasicrystals are materials in which the atoms are arranged like a mosaic, in regular patterns that never repeat themselves in the same way, unlike what happens in ordinary crystals,” he explains in a statement. Luca BindiProfessor of Mineralogy in the Department of Earth Sciences.

The scientist recalls that “it was Dan Shechtman, later awarded the Nobel Prize for his discoveries, who studied their structure in the 1980s, which makes them valuable for applications in various industrial sectors.” Although later, Bindi himself discovered that that material also existed in naturethanks to the identification of the quasicrystal in a meteorite sample preserved in the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence.

“We discovered other quasicrystals of an extraterrestrial nature and the first quasicrystal of an anthropogenic nature, formed in the detonation process of the first nuclear test carried out by USA in 1945: all of this produced under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature in nanoseconds,” he told the media.

There are more naturally occurring quasicrystals on Earth

From the first findings arose the intuition of the researcher, who, together with his American colleagues, began to study the composition of other materials formed in such exceptional conditions. And the attention of scholars focused on the fulgurites, which are produced when heat developed by electrical discharge melts quartz-bearing silica sand.

The initial image shows the fulgurite. In the metallic part of the center the new quasicrystal was detected.

“The sample we analyzed was probably formed by the fusion of sand and material from a power line knocked down by a powerful lightning discharge“explains the researcher.

“The presence of siliceous glass suggests that it had reached temperatures of at least 1,710 °C, and investigations conducted at the University’s Center for Structural Crystallography confirmed that the quasicrystal has a dodecagonal symmetry prohibited by periodic crystallography and a previously undocumented composition. Bindi added.

The discovery is significant because it indicates that there must be many other naturally occurring quasicrystals on Earth, whether caused by lightning or high voltage power lines. “These data”, concludes the scientist, “suggest in which directions the investigation of other quasicrystals could go and provide more elements to develop technologies capable of synthesizing them.”

We would love to give thanks to the author of this short article for this amazing material

A new material appears in the soil thanks to the impact of a powerful lightning