Examining the remains of the world’s first nuclear explosion, which occurred during the world’s first nuclear weapon test (Trinity), American scientists led by Paul Steinhardt discovered quasicrystals with a previously considered “impossible” composition. This is not just an interesting fact – in the future, this discovery will help carry out the so-called nuclear forensics. Material about this was published in the journal Nature.
Quasicrystals are crystals with non-standard (forbidden) symmetry of their structure for typical crystals. Quasicrystals are often formed from elements that do not combine by themselves. Hence, scientists decided to look for them in the remnants of a nuclear explosion – they chose the Alamogordo test site, where the Trinity test took place.
Then, due to the explosion of an implosive-type plutonium bomb, an area of greenish glassy material (due to the liquefaction of desert sand) was formed, which was called trinitite. The bomb was detonated at the top of a 30-meter tower, wrapped around various sensors and cables. As a result, some of the trinitite got reddish inclusions due to the combination of sand with copper from power lines. In search of quasicrystals, modern American researchers began to study precisely the red areas of trinitite. They did not fail – it was in them that they found a quasicrystal, moreover, with an icosahedral structure (with 20-sided symmetry).
The discovered quasicrystal is clearly dominated by silicon – it usually occurs in the rock in an oxidizing form. Still, the structure of trinitite is a compound of positive ions among a sea of electrons. Princeton geophysicist Lincoln Hollister believes that only extreme conditions like high temperature and pressure could “reverse oxidation.” It was these conditions that provided a nuclear explosion.
Steinhardt suggests that quasi-crystals can be used for a kind of nuclear forensics, as they can reveal places where nuclear weapons were secretly tested.