Exploding into life

17 August 2015

Silicon is widely used in computer chips and this creation could help the manufacture of superconductors.

After a year of experiments, ANU scientists have created new materials that could revolutionise the technology industry. DR PHIL DOOLEY, BSc (Hons) '90, PhD '99 and GEORGIA NIELSEN report in the new ANU Reporter.

Technological advances over the past 50 years have been based on the flexibility of one chemical element - silicon.

This popular little element is the eighth most common one in the universe by mass and is used in a diverse number of applications, from producing building maters and ceramics and glass to casting allowed for the automotive industry and creating semi-conductors in electronics.

It's the last application that has ANU scientists exploding with excitement.

By creating laser-induced micro-explosions that are similar to those created in the Big Bang, inside silicon, the researchers have discovered two new phases of the element.

These phases have the potential to revolutionise the use of silicon in producing super conductors and could lead to the creation of new high-efficiency solar cells and light sensors.

Silicon is widely used in computer chips and the researchers' use of laser-induced micro-explosions, which happened within the silicon, could help in manufacturing superconductors.

Superconductors conduct electricity or transport electrons from one atom to another with no resistance. They are used in electric motors and generators, among many other items.

Leader of the research Professor Andrei Rode, a laser physicist at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE), explains the significance of their discovery.

"We've created two entirely new crystal arrangements, or phases, in silicon and seen indications of potentially four more," Rode says.

"Theory predicts these materials could have very interesting electronic properties, such as an altered band gap and possibly superconductivity, if properly doped."

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