New on ASCR Discovery: Costly Crumbling

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The chemical bonds that tie silicon to oxygen can be expensive to break.

Miners want to sever these bonds in great numbers. The bonds lock away valuable ores in rocks where the two elements are united in the form of silica. To extract small amounts of iron, copper, gold and other metals from large volumes of stone, the rocks must be ground up, at great cost in money and energy.

Unlike miners, however, most developers of new technologies want silicon dioxide bonds to stay intact. When silica breaks in medical devices, photovoltaic cells and buildings comprised of structural glass, the costs may be tallied not only in energy or dollars but also in human health or lives.

Researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of Warwick are using Mira, an IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory, to learn more about how these chemical bonds break. The long-term goal is to understand fractures thoroughly and then to develop, on one hand, tough new configurations for implants, electronics and construction and, on the other hand, mining techniques that are safer and more environmentally friendly than current methods.

Read more at ASCR Discovery, a website highlighting research supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program.

Image caption: Water molecules near a crack tip in quartz (crystalline silica). Courtesy of James Kermode, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom.