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Computers search for 'cheapium' versions of expensive materials
by Staff Writers
Durham, N.C. (UPI) Jan 3, 2013


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

U.S. researchers say they are turning to pure computing power in the search for cheaper materials that mimic their purer, more expensive counterparts.

Researchers from Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering have used computational methods to identify dozens of platinum-group alloys previously unknown to science that could prove beneficial in a wide range of applications, the university reported Friday.

Platinum is used in catalytic converter clean up automobile exhaust, to produce high octane gasoline, plastics and synthetic rubbers, and to fight the spread of cancerous tumors -- but it's expensive.

"We're looking at the properties of 'expensium' and trying to develop 'cheapium,' " material scientist Stefano Curtarolo said. "We're trying to automate the discovery of new materials and use our system to go further faster."

After nearly 40,000 calculations, the researchers identified 37 new binary alloys in the platinum-group metals, which include osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, platinum and palladium.

While the computers can generating recipes for new, stable compounds, they don't provide much information about their behaviors, the researchers acknowledge.

"The compounds that we find are almost always possible to create," Curtarolo said. "However, we don't always know if they are useful. In other words, there are plenty of needles in the haystack; a few of those needles are gold, but most are worthless iron."

Still, if just one of the compounds identified in the Duke study is comparable in performance, it would be an economic boon to many industries worldwide as well as to the environment, the researchers said.

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