Different solids, such as glass, steel and salt when looked at under the microscope, present different structures to the observer. A lot of the physical properties that these solids exhibit is due to the arrangement of the atoms at a molecular level. Certain arrangements can result in a strong, lustrous material, whereas others can produce a brittle, lack-lustre product.
It is only natural for researchers to try and study these molecular structures and their effects on the larger scheme of things. The way the molecules are arranged can have a very big effect on the material; this cannot be better represented than by the fact that diamond and Graphite are just two different arrangements of the same atom, Carbon.
In a recent breakthrough for researchers, scientists have been able to form salt in a hexagonal shape. Table salt or NaCl (Sodium Chloride) is used daily by people across the world to add taste to their food. This new kind of salt might not make it to the dining tables.
However, this achievement might be able to help in avenues ranging from radars to electric cars. The scale of this achievement is astonishingly small. The final product, which is the hexagonal salt is only a thin film which was formed over a layer of diamond. The film was made by utilizing the chemical reaction of both the film and the diamond substrate.
Another thing that happened that was worth noting was that the simulations accurately predicted the reaction and the end product. Lately, researchers have been on a spree forming new 2-D materials with non-conventional crystal structures.
The flurry of never seen before structures have been partly spawned off the scientists’ goal to create only 2-D structures. The original plan was only to perform a simulation study of the strong interaction of a substrate with the NaCl film. The computational models also predicted major changes in the organizational structure of the thin film.
It was the simulations’ prediction of a hexagonal thin film that prompted the researchers to carry out an experimental study to synthesize the predicted hexagonal NaCl. The layer itself was just 6 nanometres thick and was synthesized under a series of high-pressure experiments.
X-ray and electron diffraction measurements later verified the layer. The film was only able to sustain the hexagonal structure until a thickness of 6 nanometres. Any more than that and the film reverted to its original structure, which for NaCl is cubic rather than hexagonal.
The implications of this study are huge. Field-effect transistors, which rely on hexagonal boron nitride, will have improved stability with the use of hexagonal NaCl. This is just one of the innumerable new opportunities where this hexagonal NaCl could be utilized. It is only a matter of time before such new 2-D structures are discovered, having the potential to revolutionize modern technology.
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