Swedish scientists create ‘impossible’ material

Scientists from Sweden’s Uppsala University have created a new form of magnesium carbonate, calling it an ‘impossible’ material.

And they did it by accident.

Named upsalite, it is believed the magnesium carbonate material will reduce the amount of energy needed to control environmental moisture in warehouses, hockey rinks, electronics and the pharmaceutical industry.

“In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process,” researcher at the Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Division Johan Goméz de la Torre said in a statement.

The porous material was found to absorb more water at low humidity levels than any other material currently available.

It has hydroscopic zeolites, which can be reproduced using less energy any other processes.

“This, together with other unique properties of the discovered impossible material is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications,” professor of nanotechnology and head of the nanotechnology and functional materials division Maria Strømme said.

What makes upsalite unique is that it is a water-free disordered form of magnesium carbonate, which is very tough to make.

Upsalite also has the biggest surface area for an alkali earth metal carbonate. It is full of empty pores with diameters less than 10 nanometres.

According to Goméz de la Torre, the researchers slightly modified the synthesis parameters of earlier, failed trials and left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend by accident.

When they returned to work on Monday, they saw the rigid gel had taken shape.

“After drying this gel we started to get excited,” he said.

It took a year of in-depth analysis of materials and refinement of the experiment before the material was discovered in its current form.

 “After having gone through a number of state of the art materials characterization techniques it became clear that we had indeed synthesized the material that previously had been claimed impossible to make”, Strømme said.

The research on upsalite was published in the journal PLOS ONE on July 17.

Geologists at the University of California recently discovered a new mineral named qingsongite.

The mineral, which is cubic boron nitrate, was originally discovered in 2009 but received approval this week from the International Mineralogical Association.

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