New research from the University of Birmingham has shown that the electronic structure of metals can affect their mechanical properties. This connection between electronic and mechanical properties had previously been understood theoretically but had not been proven in experiments until now.
The researchers conducted experiments on a superconducting metal called strontium ruthenate. They found that when this metal was compressed, its mechanical stiffness decreased by 10% and then increased by 20% as a new set of electronic states became occupied.
This experiment was challenging because metals with interesting electronic properties tend to be brittle, making it difficult to apply large forces. Additionally, large strains were required to meaningfully alter the electronic properties. The scientists had to build new instrumentation to handle small and delicate samples and measure at cryogenic temperatures.
The research was funded by the German Research Foundation and the Max Planck Society. The scientists are now interested in conducting similar measurements on other metals. The apparatus developed for this project may also find application in the study of high-strength alloys.
This project demonstrates how curiosity-driven research can lead to new technology with practical applications.
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