Liquids and glasses are often described as having “disordered” structures, but new methods are showing that there are some significant patterns hidden in the seemingly random arrangements of atoms. When applied to a glassy copper–zirconium alloy, “order mining” has revealed an unexpected similarity between metallic glasses and quasicrystals, among other novel features. Previous methods only examined the local arrangements of closely neighbored atoms of these complex materials, but the new approach focuses on larger motifs, rather than getting bogged down in the details, much in the way that an impressionist painting represents a scene without including all of the detail. The new method can be incorporated into existing simulation tools and provides a powerful tool for identifying changes in the chaotic arrangements of atoms as a liquid metal cools. Knowing why some ‘ordered’ arrangements of atoms are preferred over others is one of the most significant challenges in materials science. It is not yet clear whether the method is capable of finding any order in a teenager’s bedroom.
X. W. Fang, C. Z. Wang, S. G. Hao, M. J. Kramer, Y. X. Yao, M. I. Mendelev, Z. J. Ding, R. Napolitano and K. M. Ho “Spatially Resolved Distribution Function and the Medium-Range Order in Metallic Liquid and Glass” Scientific Reports 1 (2011) 194. DOI 10.1038/srep00194