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Scanning electron microscope image of the ellipsoidal colloids with — Image Credit: University of Konstanz

DISCOVERY

Scientists create a new state of matter called ‘Liquid Glass’

Researchers have come up with a novel state of matter using suspensions of tailor-made ellipsoidal colloids

Science is an interesting subject. Just like my personal preference, it involves lifelong learning. New discoveries and inventions enhance your understanding of the complex world out there. The basic understanding of science revolves around four fundamental states of matter — Solids, Liquids, Gases & Plasma, where each state of matter is also characterized by phase transitions.

Then came the idea of “Bose-Einstein condensate” (BEC) by Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose in 1924, which proposed in BEC, matter stops behaving as independent particles & collapses into a single quantum state that can be described with a single, uniform wavefunction. It wasn’t until 1995 that researchers produced the first such condensate experimentally — at temperatures very close to absolute zero, −273.15 °C (−459.67 °F).

Researchers have been experimenting with this so-called fifth state of matter ever since. Late last year, I wrote about how scientists were able to create superconductors from BEC, using a cloud of iron and selenium atoms. A recent discovery has shown that there is so much more that we still don’t know. Scientists at the University of Konstanz uncovered a new state of matter liquid glass with previously unknown structural elements & unusual properties.

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“This is incredibly interesting from a theoretical vantage point. Our experiments provide the kind of evidence for the interplay between critical fluctuations and glassy arrest that the scientific community has been after for quite some time.”

~ Matthias Fuchs, Senior Author of the Study

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, glass is treated as a solid, but in everyday science, it anything but that. In actuality, it is an amorphous solid. You see when a transition takes place from liquid to solid-state, free-flowing atoms transform into a rigid crystal formation. However, in the case of glass, the atoms “freeze” in their disordered state. While we refer to this as the substance that we know as window glass, properties exhibiting this glass-like behavior can be seen in various other materials like metals, plastics, proteins, and even biological cells.

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Image of the position and orientation of ellipsoidal particles in clusters of liquid glass — Image credit: Research groups of Professor Andreas Zumbusch and Professor Matthias Fuchs

This recent discovery of ‘liquid glass’ showed that the atoms exhibit complex behavior that’s never been seen in the bulk glass before. Utilizing a model system involving suspensions of tailor-made ellipsoidal colloids, the team found out that individual particles are able to move yet unable to rotate.

The colloidal suspensions mixtures consisted of large solid particles suspended in a fluid, making it easier for scientists to observe the physical behavior of atoms or molecules. The solid particles are sized at a micrometer (one-millionth of a meter) or more, that are bigger than atoms or molecules & therefore well-suited to investigation with optical microscopy.

Different particle concentrations in the suspensions were used to track both the translational and rotational motion of the particles using confocal microscopy. The experiment showed that at higher concentrations, the particles blocked each other from rotating, but they could still move, forming a liquid glass state.

According to the team, the observations were noted in two competing glass transitions — a regular phase transformation and a nonequilibrium phase transformation, interacting with each other. The results from the study suggest that similar dynamics might be at play in other glass-forming systems. This could not only lead to the development of liquid crystalline devices but also help us in understanding the behavior of complex systems — from molecular to a cosmological level.

Complete Research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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