We’ve Never Really Understood Aluminum

aluminumAluminum, we’re all familiar with it. It is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, and second only to iron in its importance to human civilization. We use it for cooking and in electronic components, it’s what our cans and some of our bikes are made out of. What might come as a surprise, however, is that for over 100 years, scientists have been unable to understand the chemistry of aluminum in its aqueous form? Well, thanks in part to OSU researchers, this mystery may finally be starting to unravel.

In its aqueous form, aluminum affects the biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and anthrosphere – the part of the environment modified by humans. In a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Oregon State and University of Oregon researchers, along with colleagues from four other research institutions, have discovered a platform to isolate, synthesize, and characterize aqueous aluminum compounds. Known as “flat clusters,” these compounds have never before been observed by scientists.

Scientists are calling the discovery of this platform a powerful tool set for synthesizing and analyzing aluminum and other metals in aqueous formations. Their methods provide a precise level of control, which allows accurate selection of desired products, and a detailed understanding of the pathways through which these products form.

According to the researchers, flat cluster aluminum formations are of particular importance for use in the development of “green” technologies such as thin films and nanoparticles. They can be applied in electronics, corrosion prevention products, and for catalysis of chemical reactions. Such technologies are expected to lower the cost of producing these and other products, while increasing product performance. The production and use of these products will not have a negative impact on the environment. In addition, the platform developed during this study will have profound impacts on advancement in the fields of agriculture, construction, and water treatment.

by Kristen Daly

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