Atomic movie of future gold could pave the way for future fusion reactors

Researchers who belong to the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have found out the most in-depth atomic movie of gold melting after being blasted by laser light. Through this process, they gained knowledge into how metals liquefy have the capacity to help the development of the fusion power reactors, steel processing plants, spacecraft and also other applications where minerals have to undergo extreme conditions for the long duration of time.

The process which is known as the nuclear fusion helps to power stars like the sun. Scientists have the desire to imitate the same process on Earth which they consider to be a relatively a clean and a safe way of generating vast amounts of energy. However, to set up a fusion reactor, they require materials which can withstand temperatures to the extent of a few hundred millions of degrees Fahrenheit and also the intense radiation produced in the fusion reaction. 

According to Mianzhen Mo who is the postdoctoral researcher at the SLAC has said that their study was an essential step towards finding out the predictions of the effects of the extreme conditions on the reactor materials which also involve heavy metals such as gold. Mo is also the lead author of the journal published in Science. He further added saying that the atomic level description of the melting process will help to make better models of the short as well as long-term damage to those materials which would involve crack formation and material failure.

The study took resort to SLAC’s high-speed electron camera. It is equipment for ultrafast electron diffraction (UED), and it is very much capable of identifying nuclear motions with a shutter speed of almost 100 millionths of a billionth of a second or in other words 100 femtoseconds. The team found out that the melting started at the upper surfaces of the top sized grains inside the gold sample. It is the region where the gold sample very precisely lines up in crystals and also at the boundaries between them.

To study the process of melting, the researchers found the laser beam on the sample of gold crystals and kept track of how the atomic nuclei in the crystals responded along with UED instrument’s electron beam as a probe. By knitting together snapshots of the nuclear structure which were taken at various times after the laser hit, they established a stop motion movie of the structural changes over time.