Bizarre Breakthrough – Scientists Discover Unusual “Floppy” Crystals

Floppy Crystals

Floppy crystals. Salts that contain water in their crystalline structure can become soft and floppy. Credit: UvA

When it comes to crystals, we tend to imagine solid, rigid structures with distinct, repeating patterns, such as ice, salt, and quartz. However, new research conducted by Noushine Shahidzadeh, a physicist from the University of Amsterdam Institute of Physics, reveals a different reality: crystals can also be soft and pliable, lacking the recognizable facets that we typically associate with them.

The results of this research were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Floppy crystals

Crystals are generically hard solids and are usually identified by their well-defined geometrical shape that reflects the underlying highly ordered molecular structure. In their paper, the physicists show that surprisingly, some salts that contain water in their crystalline structure (so-called hydrated salts) can behave remarkably differently.

When these salts are slowly dissolved through contact with humid air, they become soft, deformable, and lose their facets. This is in contrast to regular crystals, which keep their faceted shape and stay hard while dissolving. Thus, the microcrystals that were studied simultaneously are crystalline in the bulk of the material but show liquid-like molecular mobility at their surfaces.

Reference: “Softness of hydrated salt crystals under deliquescence” by Rozeline Wijnhorst, Menno Demmenie, Etienne Jambon-Puillet, Freek Ariese, Daniel Bonn, and Noushine Shahidzadeh, 25 February 2023, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-36834-0

The paper was selected by the editors of that journal as one of the featured articles for the Editors’ Highlights webpage of recent research in the section Materials science and chemistry. The Editors’ Highlights pages aim to showcase the 50 best papers recently published in an area.

1 Comment on "Bizarre Breakthrough – Scientists Discover Unusual “Floppy” Crystals"

  1. Ralph Johnson | April 30, 2023 at 9:55 am | Reply

    This new observation of the floppy crystal makes me ponder, could the existence of floppy crystals in conjunction with our biological state of Life fit, with quantum states of our cells in our body’s our need for water, salt, oils, and conductive minerals some parts of flexible tissue. Of course my observation does not include all Coggs on the gear but a consideration should be given to the mechanics of life and intelligent thinking, We do know in computer sciences that crystals can hold information, and form piezoelectric impulses, etc..

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