Alchemy, at 2,000 degrees Celsius. A new study from the Argonne National Laboratory reports that a group of scientists from Japan, Finland, America, and Germany have used lasers to turn liquid cement into a glassy, liquid metal.

The newly-invented process could be beneficial for building circuits that resist corosion. Their discovery could eventually change the way all sorts of devices are made, ranging from iPads to TVs.

The study, which appeared in The Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences and was accompanied by some inspiring photoshop art (see below), describes the process of heating a cement compound to 2,000 degrees Celsius. Using aerodynamic levitation, which lifts materials off of a surface using gas pressure, the team was able to carefully control the way the cement cooled. The result of the superheating? A glassy surface that can “trap” free electrons—the things needed to conduct electricity.


Their discovery has the potential to change how gadgets are made. "This new material has lots of applications including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays, basically the flat panel computer monitor that you are probably reading this from at the moment," said a physicist named Chris Benmore in Argonne’s release. And eventually, the same levitation-and-laser process could turn other materials into semi-conductors. "Now that we know the conditions needed to create trapped electrons in materials we can develop and test other materials to find out if we can make them conduct electricity in this way,” Benmore added.

Turning cement into metal might sound like a more sustainable manufacturing technique—but, as Architect Magazine writer Blaine Brownell points out, the process used to heat the cement compound is remarkably energy-intensive. So, for now, it’s unclear whether such a discovery could end up being better for the environment. [Argonne National Laboratory]