Newly discovered quasicrystal was created by first atomic bomb test

New Mexico News

An aerial view of ground zero 28 hours after the Trinity Test on July 16, 1945. (courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory)

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – A discovery made by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory may someday help scientists better understand nuclear explosions and control nuclear proliferation. According to a news release from LANL, a newly discovered quasicrystal was first created by the initial nuclear explosion at Trinity Site on July 16, 1945.

LANL reports that the material was created accidentally in the blast of the first atomic bomb test and resulted in the fusion of surrounding sand, the test tower, and copper transmission lines into trinitite which is a glassy material.

The quasicrystal that was formed by the Trinity explosion in a sample of red trinitite reportedly has a five-fold rotational symmetry which scientists say isn’t possible in a natural crystal. The quasicrystal’s symmetry group is the same as the regular 20-sided icosahedron solid.

Researchers say that quasicrystals are materials that are unique in the sense that they have an atomic structure of the elements however, their pattern isn’t periodic. Usually, crystals are formed through materials like sugar, salt, or quartz which is referred to as the periodic order.

Director Emeritus of LANL Terry Wallace is the co-author of a paper on the discovery that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. “Understanding another countries’ nuclear weapons requires that we have a clear understanding of their nuclear testing programs,” said Wallace in the press release. “We typically analyze radioactive debris and gases to understand how the weapons were built or what materials they contained, but those signatures decay. A quasicrystal that is formed at the site of a nuclear blast can potentially tell us new types of information-and they’ll exist forever.”

LANL researchers say this new quasicrystal is the oldest human made quasicrystal and has a distinctive origin.

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