8/2/2012 3:28:57 PM

David Briddock investigates this revolutionary material

Once in a while a new material comes along and turns conventional thinking on its head.

Liquid-metal is just such a groundbreaking material. Super strong, easily shaped and with a unique set of properties related to both metal and glass, it's beginning to redefine the boundaries of product design.

Functional to desirable

Before we learn more about this material, let's take a moment to review the materials used so far. The very first PC cases were pretty rudimentary Metal boxes held together with nuts and bolts or self-tapping screws were the order of the day These Mercado-style containers suited early adopters and home-brew communities, who spent as much time tinkering with the electronic innards as they did with software. Many simply left the cover off, able to gaze in wonderment at their own piece of computing history.

Description: Liquid-metal

The metal case persisted for many years. A sizable, solid-looking beige or grey box, invariable with an octopus-like collection of trailing wires. With their made-for-business feel, these PCs soon started to proliferate across office desks up and down the country.

Meanwhile, the home computing and games console movement created a diverse collection of plastic-enshrouded products.

Ironically, today these designs appear quite Iconic. The PC seemed largely oblivious to this kind of styling until Apple launched its original ¡Mac. With Its all-in-one design, organic polycarbonate curves, bright colors and dearth of wiring, it was aimed squarely at home consumers. The ¡Mac marked a seminal point where a PC could boldly take Its place as an attractive piece of living room furniture.

Winning designs

Today, design is a critical part of any technology product. The level of sales will be just as reliant on a designer's touch as in the technical prowess.

Description: Apple iPhone 5 LiquidMetal

Apple iPhone 5 LiquidMetal

In the laptops and notebooks marketplace, designers continually battle between lightness and strength. While a workable compromise ultimately has to be found, the boundaries are always being pushed. Super-slim, light and elegantly styled notebooks are always more desirable than their bulkier cousins; even if the price is out of reach for many

“Today design is a critical part of any technology product it”

Once again, Apple recently leapt ahead of the pack. Its aluminum anybody MacBook’s embody strength and lightness with enviable looks. Other manufacturers are integrating exotic materials, such as magnesium and carbon fiber, into their designs in an effort to steal their own share of the limelight.

 “Which breakthrough liquid-metal product will capture the public’s attention?”

What is a metallic alloy?

Liquid-metal is the trade name for a new class of metallic alloys. These alloys have a unique amorphous (see box out) atomic structure, more like glass than steel. Scientists often refer to these materials as 'bulk metallic glasses' or 'bulk amorphous alloys'. However, in the media the terms 'metallic glass' or 'glassy metal' are much more popular

At first glance, a liquid-metal alloy looks similar to stainless steel, albeit with a slightly different tone and hue. However, if you hold it in your hand, it will have a distinctly warmer feel than metal. The exact color depends on the alloy's specific composition. Straight from a casting mold or die, liquid-metal objects exhibit a smooth mirror-like finish, but satin or brushed finishes are also possible.

The key attributes are super strength and resilience, high scratch and corrosion resistance, and an ability to be precision cast into complex shapes. It's a very attractive combination. Plastics are easy to shape but simply aren't strong enough. Metals have the strength, but complex shapes are difficult to create. And glass, despite its malleability and beauty, is just too fragile.

The hardness and strength-to-weight ratio of a liquid-metal alloy is particularly impressive. Compositions containing zirconium are considerably stronger than aerospace-grade titanium alloys, and on a par with the very latest high-strength steels and specialized composite materials.

Description: Apple iMac G3
Apple iMac G3

Unlike steel, these alloys do not exhibit a specific melting point. This high temperature plasticity allows the manufacturer to exert a great deal of control over an object's mechanical properties during the casting or forming operation. With manufacturing techniques being more akin to thermoplastics than metals, there's huge scope for innovation and refinement.

Their metallic nature also gives rise to an interesting and useful range of electrical and thermal properties - a factor that considerably extends the potential usefulness of this material, and once again something plastics and glass cannot match.

The right recipe

The specific characteristics of a liquid-metal are dictated by the ingredients. Just like baking a cake, the basics are the same, but a Victoria sponge, for example, is totally different to carrot cake.

Description: Liquid-Metal


Despite being the subject of research programmed for decades, new discoveries frequently occur with so many potential recipes to investigate; each new experiment yields a little more useful information and can sometimes produce quite unexpected results.

The zirconium range of liquid-metal alloys was discovered by Atakan Peker, as part of his Ph.D. on the development of bulk metallic glass. Peker, who now works for Liquid-metal Technologies, successfully added varying percentages of titanium, copper, nickel, aluminum and beryllium to create the Vitriol series of alloys - a series that contains elements with an unusually wide range of atom radii dimensions, which enhance their ability to create and retain an amorphous state.

However, zirconium isn't mandatory; many other recipes are possible. In fact, a whole range of glassy materials - each with their own very specific but equally useful characteristics - are created using a very similar manufacturing process. All these alloys form tight, strong bonds with a wide range of natural or manmade materials, including metals, plastics and ceramics.

Further reading

Original Apple iMac: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMac_G3en. wikipedia.org/wiki/IMac_G3

Atakan Peker: www.shock.wsu.edu/people/peker.html

Liquid-metal Technologies: www.liquidmetal.com

Genesis Mission: genesismission.jpl.nasa.gov

Amorphous metals

Metals have a characteristic crystalline structure, with highly ordered atomic arrangements. In contrast, amorphous metals are non-crystalline, just as in glass. However, they still exhibit electrical conductivity properties, unlike glass, which is an insulator.

Special processes are necessary to create a non-crystalline structure. These include extremely rapid heating and cooling, physical vapor deposition, solid-state reaction, ion irradiation and mechanical alloying. Each process has its own challenge.

For example, in rapid cooling, the temperature drop must reach millions of degrees per second.

However, new techniques are being developed all the time. And alloys that contain elements with dramatically different atomic radii, achieve and retain an amorphous state more easily

  •  Vigor 2850n
  •  Visual Studio 2010 : Introducing the Visual Studio Extensibility - Extending the Code Editor
  •  Visual Studio 2010 : Managing Extensions with the Extension Manager, Managing Add-Ins with the Add-In Manager
  •  Intel Xeon Phi: Coprocessor speeding at 1 teraflops in a PCIe Card
  •  Visual Studio Team System 2008 : Working with Test Results (part 2) - Build report and test result
  •  Visual Studio Team System 2008 : Working with Test Results (part 1) - Test as part of Team Foundation Server build
  •  Finance - Apple Versus Google
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Testing and debugging Coherence applications
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Accessing the data grid (part 6) - Using the Coherence API - Implementing CoherenceTarget, Testing the Cache loader
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Accessing the data grid (part 5) - Using the Coherence API - Loader design, Implementing CsvSource
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Accessing the data grid (part 4) - Using the Coherence API - The basics: NamedCache and CacheFactory
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Accessing the data grid (part 3) - Configuring Coherence
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Accessing the data grid (part 2) - Configuring the development environment
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Accessing the data grid (part 1) - Coherence console
  •  Oracle Coherence 3.5 : Installing Coherence, Starting up the Coherence cluster
  •  The Go-To Reference Design Map For The Cloud?
  •  Separating BPM and SOA Processes : SOA-Oriented Disputes with BEA
  •  Science! – Spintronics
  •  Linux - The Operating System With A Pure Heart (Part 2)
  •  Linux - The Operating System With A Pure Heart (Part 1)
    Top 10
    Nikon 1 J2 With Stylish Design And Dependable Image And Video Quality
    Canon Powershot D20 - Super-Durable Waterproof Camera
    Fujifilm Finepix F800EXR – Another Excellent EXR
    Sony NEX-6 – The Best Compact Camera
    Teufel Cubycon 2 – An Excellent All-In-One For Films
    Dell S2740L - A Beautifully Crafted 27-inch IPS Monitor
    Philips 55PFL6007T With Fantastic Picture Quality
    Philips Gioco 278G4 – An Excellent 27-inch Screen
    Sony VPL-HW50ES – Sony’s Best Home Cinema Projector
    Windows Vista : Installing and Running Applications - Launching Applications
    Most View
    Bamboo Splash - Powerful Specs And Friendly Interface
    Powered By Windows (Part 2) - Toshiba Satellite U840 Series, Philips E248C3 MODA Lightframe Monitor & HP Envy Spectre 14
    MSI X79A-GD65 8D - Power without the Cost
    Canon EOS M With Wonderful Touchscreen Interface (Part 1)
    Windows Server 2003 : Building an Active Directory Structure (part 1) - The First Domain
    Personalize Your iPhone Case
    Speed ​​up browsing with a faster DNS
    Using and Configuring Public Folder Sharing
    Extending the Real-Time Communications Functionality of Exchange Server 2007 : Installing OCS 2007 (part 1)
    Google, privacy & you (Part 1)
    iPhone Application Development : Making Multivalue Choices with Pickers - Understanding Pickers
    Microsoft Surface With Windows RT - Truly A Unique Tablet
    Network Configuration & Troubleshooting (Part 1)
    Panasonic Lumix GH3 – The Fastest Touchscreen-Camera (Part 2)
    Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2005 : FOR XML Commands (part 3) - OPENXML Enhancements in SQL Server 2005
    Exchange Server 2010 : Track Exchange Performance (part 2) - Test the Performance Limitations in a Lab
    Extra Network Hardware Round-Up (Part 2) - NAS Drives, Media Center Extenders & Games Consoles
    Windows Server 2003 : Planning a Host Name Resolution Strategy - Understanding Name Resolution Requirements
    Google’s Data Liberation Front (Part 2)
    Datacolor SpyderLensCal (Part 1)