Researchers at The University of New South Wales (UNSW) have created an “instruction manual” for developing metallic glass, an ultra-tough yet flexible alloy described as the most significant materials science innovation since plastic. Just like something from science fiction (think of the liquid-metal robot assassin in the “Terminator” films), these materials behave more like glass or plastic than metal. While still being metals, they become as malleable as chewing gum when heated and can be easily molded or blown like glass. They are also three times stronger and harder than ordinary metals, on average, and are among the toughest materials known.
Most metals are crystalline when solid, with their atoms arranged in a highly organized and regular manner. Metallic glass alloys, however, have a highly disordered structure, with the atoms arranged in a non-regular way. “There are many types of metallic glass, with the most popular ones based on zirconium, palladium, magnesium, titanium or copper,” says Kevin Laws, Ph.D., of UNSW and author of the recent study published in the journal Nature Communications. “But until now, discovering alloy compositions that form these materials has required a lengthy process of trial and error in the laboratory.”