The sci-fi series of Star Trek TV shows, films and novels have always been way ahead of the curve when it came to gadgets and technology that seemed impossible at the time but have since become a reality. The most common of course is the cell phone, which got its idea from the hand-held communicator used by Captain Kirk and members of Starfleet.
Other concoctions from the shows that are finding their way into reality are transporter technology, ion drives, far-reaching space telescopes (like Hubble), food processors and replicators, and the list goes on. One area of technology that many thought, if it were possible at all, would be years away was transparent aluminum. Well, chalk another one up to Star Trek ingenuity because real-life science has finally caught up with that sci-fi wizardry as well.
Scientists are now making the claim that they have created a form of aluminum almost completely transparent to extreme ultraviolet radiation, lighter than most metals or plexiglass and consists of an entirely new state of matter known as plasma, a superheated exotic gas.
Ah….”hello computer”…did Scotty and Bones just beam down to San Francisco? Yep, the idea that comes right out of the “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” film now has a real scientific basis, according to a recent article in the journal Nature Physics.
While only existing in the plasma state a short amount of time (40 femtoseconds), the “transparent aluminum” was created when a laser pulse from the high-powered synchrotron radiation generator, (a.k.a. FLASH in Hamburg, Germany), was able to bump a core electron from its regular orbit around the aluminum atom’s nucleus without altering its primary crystalline structure, thereby fusing the atoms to yield “transparent aluminum”. The key in this experiment wasn’t the end product of transparent aluminum, as exciting as that may be to us sci-fi geeks, but the method used to make that product, i.e., fusion. Fusion (the fusing of atomic particles) has been and continues to be the hope of all mankind for a clean, cost-effective, unlimited and efficient energy source.
Justin Wark and his collegues at Oxford’s Department of Physics are doing backflips. ”What we have created is a completely new state of matter nobody has seen before,” stated Wark. “Transparent aluminum is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of ‘miniature stars’ created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth. What is particularly remarkable about our experiment is that we have turned ordinary aluminum into this exotic new material in a single step by using this very powerful laser,” Wark said. “For a brief period the sample looks and behaves in every way like a new form of matter. In certain respects, the way it reacts is as though we had changed every aluminum atom into silicon: it’s almost as surprising as finding that you can turn lead into gold with light.”
To learn more about transparent aluminum GO HERE.