Cement is a critical material for humanity, as its binding abilities allowed for larger structures to be made in ancient times, so today most people associate it with construction. Recently though, researchers discovered that at least one kind of cement can actually be made into a semiconducting metallic glass. Finally the process has been explained by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and across the world, and this knowledge may lead to cement being used in electronics, including computer chips.
The researchers focused on mayenite, a material made of calcium and aluminum oxides and a component of alumina cement. It was heated to 2000 ºC using a laser in an aerodynamic levitator, to keep it from touching any surfaces. This was important as it allowed the cement to cool into a chaotic glass state with the semiconducting properties. To understand why these properties emerged, the researchers collected data with a variety of methods and analyzed it all with a supercomputer. The results indicate that as the cement cools into a glass, free electrons within it become trapped in cage-like structures. These electrons enable the material to carry a current, using a similar mechanism to that present in metals.
As weird as it sounds for cement to be a semiconductor, it may not be weird in the future as it is made into thin film resistors, for use in LCDs, and other components. Naturally the researchers are now considering what other materials may be able to undergo the same transformation.
Source: Argonne National Laboratory