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Metal Alloy That Can Catalyze Planetary Studies Discovered

3 February 2017, 7:17 am EST By Kalyan Kumar Tech Times
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Researchers of planetary studies can breathe easy. A new alloy made of magnetic particles and liquid metal is going to make their experiments easier, especially in recreating powerful forces that work on the Earth and other stellar bodies.

Made of indium and gallium (eGaIn) the alloy is noted for the suspension of different particles internally. When it flows, it generates magnetic fields and alters magnetic zones five times more than ordinary liquid metals do.

"We can potentially reproduce some of the phenomena seen in planets and stars with this material," said the senior author of the study, Eric Brown, who is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Yale University.

The study was published in Physical Review Fluids.

High Conductivity

The EGaIn alloy also shows high electrical conductivity explaining its utility in magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) experiments for studying magnetic nature of fluids lying at the core of stellar bodies such as stars and planets.

The scientists had been facing the challenge of particle suspension in viscous metals with the drawback of metal's skin getting oxidized while leaving the particles on the surface.

The problem has been overcome by making the liquid metal merge in an acidic solution to thwart oxidation.

"We managed to suspend almost anything we wanted - steel, zinc, nickel, iron - basically anything with a conductivity higher than that of the eGaIn," said lead author Florian Carle, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science at Yale.

Study Of Magnetic Flip

The liquid metal's flowing property, just like Earth's molten inner core, generates magnetic fields five times stronger than pure liquid metals — opening up vast applications. That will be a boon for scientists in using the material in the lab to study the properties of the core of planets and stars.

It becomes easy to recreate a tiny Earth as small as 20 square centimeters within a lab to analyze matters like geomagnetic shifts.

The alloy has excited researchers because recreating the Earth's magnetic field had given them only partial success. Use of inflammable liquid sodium was a risk and it also required very large models.

The new material scores well with its viscous nature that goes a long way in going deep on magnetism studies.

"So they might see results that you couldn't get with liquid sodium, or even observe completely different MHD phenomena," said Carle.

Carle mentioned that researchers can "create a smaller Earth" to explore any phenomena and predictions will get better on matters like a reversal of Earth's magnetic field.

Risk Of Reversal

The consequences accompanying the reversal of Earth's magnetic fields once in many thousands of years is dreaded for the dislocation of the shield that protects Earth from radiation hazard from the space.

According to scientists, past flips have destroyed many species on Earth.

In today's technology-rich world, magnetic pole reversal will intensify influx of charged particles and they can harm critical infrastructures such as satellites, aviation, and ground-based electrical grids.

In this context, the Halloween storm of 2003 that caused electricity-grid blackouts in Sweden needs to be recalled. The event required redirecting of flights to escape communication blackout and radiation harm. It also disrupted satellites and other systems of communication.

Now the extreme flexibility in creating effects on a miniature scale marks out the new material for expanded use in making a host of new gadgets.

"You can imagine people coming up with applications that use these MHD phenomena in the lab and industrial settings," Brown added.

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