This ain’t no second-place alloy.
Silver may be used to create runner-up medals, but when it comes to physical strength, it’s no pushover. It’s certainly stronger than gold, that’s for sure. Typical silver is about half as tough as stainless steel, but thanks to a little nano-wizardry, that gap has just been drastically reduced.
A team of scientists from the University of Vermont have just set a new world record for the world’s strongest silver. According to their estimations, this new silver alloy is 42% tougher than the previous record holder. This in itself is already pretty cool, but what really takes the cake is the method they used to make this happen.
The team discovered a new method to manipulate metal on the nanoscopic scale. See, most metals have tiny defects in their surfaces which can leave them soft or brittle. Previous attempts to strengthen metal, usually by mixing metals together, stripped them of their ability to conduct electricity. If metal can’t conduct and transfer energy, it’s forced to absorb it all at once, which damages it. So where’s the middle ground solution? Turns out it’s a little mixing and matching. The team mixed trace amounts of copper into their silver formula. The copper atoms slid comfortably into the defects on the silver’s surface. Copper is great at conducting electricity, and the silver is strengthened from having its defects filled, so you get the best of both worlds.
The team believes this process could be used to strengthen other metals, which could lead to things like lighter aircraft, better solar cells, and more efficient nuclear plants. And to think, we could get all that cool stuff thanks to a second-place metal. Who’s the runner-up now, gold?