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Materials

Understanding and manipulating fundamental properties of materials can lead to science breakthroughs.

May 31, 2017
In this image, tightly packed disks subjected to an earthquake-like movement display separate fast and slow moving regions and form a net of load-bearing contacts, rather than a uniform distribution of pressure.

In this image, tightly packed disks subjected to an earthquake-like movement display separate fast and slow moving regions and form a net of load-bearing contacts, rather than a uniform distribution of pressure.

Materials science research at Los Alamos

Ever since the earliest days of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, exploration of the physics, chemistry, and metallurgy of materials has soaked into nearly every aspect of work here. This is called materials science, and it plays a central role, from weapons, to magnets, to fuels, to medical devices, to nanoscale technology, and even to the behavior of Earth’s biosphere and rocky crust. Materials science is a perfect example of the interdisciplinary cooperation that is one hallmark of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Materials questions to ponder

How does a uranium atom know when to split?

Any radioactive element has a half-life. This is the amount of time in which half of a large number of atom’s nuclei will decay. Which particular atoms will split is totally random, and the probability depends on the nature of and behavior in the atom’s nucleus.

Learn more about the half-life of a radioactive element (pdf).

How do color-changing “mood” pencils work?

These pencils have two coatings of paint. The inside coat is the warm color, hidden by the outside, cold, color. When the pencil is warmed, the incredibly small molecules in the outer color change their shapes, opening windows that allow us to see the inside color.

Learn more about mood pencils (pdf).

What is a “high” explosive?

Chemical explosives either “deflagrate” or burn very rapidly, or they “detonate” when the reaction is set off not by fire but by a shock wave. High explosives are of the latter kind, and the reactions are much quicker than they are with low explosives, like gunpowder.

Learn more high explosives (pdf).


Cool materials links