Mind & Matter


Materials for All Temperatures

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Zero thermal expansion in antiperovskite manganese nitrides. Photo: Advanced Materials.


Every architect learns that materials expand and contract with changes in temperature. Thermal expansion is the phenomenon responsible for the inclusion of expansion joints in buildings, as well as the reason that reinforced concrete performs so well (because concrete and steel have similar coefficients of thermal expansion). However, what if there were materials that were not influenced at all by changes in temperature?

Collaborators from Beijing University of Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, U.S.-based NIST, Germany’s University of Jena, and the Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science have taken critical steps towards this reality. In a paper submitted to Advanced Materials, the researchers discovered a universal mechanism controlling thermal expansion in a class of materials called antiperovskite manganese nitrides. By manipulating the locations where manganese occupies the lattice structure in this material, the scientists were able to approach zero thermal expansion—a highly desired trait for sensitive nanodevices and other precision-based equipment.

Most significantly, Beijing University’s Xiaoyan Song believes that this universal mechanism may be applied to other materials, which would unlock new possibilities in the design of products suitable for extreme weather conditions.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.