Shrinking Solids? Whoever Heard Of "Thermal Contraction?"

November 12, 1998

Shrinking Solids? Ideal Material? Physicists Discover New Atomic Building Blocks
("Who ever heard of 'thermal contraction' before?")

In a surprise discovery, physicists at The Johns Hopkins University and Bell Labs are reporting that they have found clues that subvert what once seemed to be a natural law that solids must expand when heated.

With a few twists of an atom, the Hopkins physicist, Collin Broholm, says he believes it may soon be possible to create composite materials that actually shrink under heat. The range of potential applications -- from extending the useful lifetimes of notebook computers to improving the efficiencies of fiber optics -- is enormous.

"Naturally, everyone has heard about thermal expansion," said Broholm, an associate professor at Hopkins who was called to help scientists on a telecommunications project at Bell Labs, the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies, based in Murray Hill, N.J. "But who has ever heard of thermal contraction before? Really, it's the ideal engineering material. It's quite astonishing"

The researchers report their findings in the November 12 issue of "Nature." A news release from Lucent Technologies is at http://www.lucent.com/press/1198/981111.coa.html.
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