Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Science: Breakthroughs on the Basics

This is an interesting article about how things we thought we understood can throw us a scientific curve when we examine them closely.
One team at MIT looked at the molecular structure of concrete, which everyone assumed was crystalline. It's not: it's part crystal and part an "amorphous frozen liquid." You'd think we had studied the basics of concrete at some point since the Romans invented it, but it turns out no one has. We knew how it worked, we used it, and no one, apparently, saw the value in breaking it down further. Now that we have, it'll be much easier to develop variations on the forumula to produce better concrete for particular applications.
Likewise, what can be magnetized? Well, a lot of solids can. But could a gas be made to act like a magnet? The thought seems silly - but the answer is yes.
Science will never reach its end. There will always be new discoveries - if someone puts the effort into looking in odd or presumably-solved problems like these.


Corax said...

I think that these are rather overstating the facts.

When I was studying for my materials negineering degree in the early 1990s concrete was referred to as being partially a highly viscous liquid.

Also magnetism in gases is not of itself new (oxygen is magnetic) - I think the distinction here is that while paramagnetism is well established in gases, they are claiming to have discovered something more akin to ferromagnetism.

Matt Bille said...

Thanks very much for the clarifications. It's easy for context to be dropped in reporting (meaning both my posts and the original publications I refer to). People announcing new achivements may skim over existing work in an effort to highlight what it unique about their own.

Matt Bille said...

Added: Corax's reference to ferromagnetism is correct. What these researchers reported is that the molecules in their test gas (at near absulute-zero temperatures) lined up the way they do in solids like iron.