A new way of understanding the structure of proteins, polymers, minerals, and engineered materials will be published in the May 2011 issue of the journal Nature Materials. The discovery by two Penn State University researchers is a new type of symmetry in the structure of materials, which the researchers say greatly expands the possibilities for discovering or designing materials with desired properties. The research is expected to have broad relevance in many development efforts involving physical, chemical, biological, or engineering disciplines including, for example, the search for advanced ferroelectric ferromagnet materials for next-generation ultrasound devices and computers. The paper describing the research will be posted early online by the journal on 3 April 2011, prior to its publication in the journal's May 2011 print edition.
Before the publication of this paper, scientists and engineers had five different types of symmetries to use as tools for understanding the structures of materials whose building blocks are arranged in fairly regular patterns. Four types of symmetries had been known for thousands of years -- called rotation, inversion, rotation inversion, and translation -- and a fifth type -- called time reversal -- had been discovered about 60 years ago. Now, Gopalan and Litvin have added a new, sixth, type, called rotation reversal. As a result, the number of known ways in which the components of such crystalline materials can be combined in symmetrical ways has multiplied from no more than 1,651 before to more than 17,800 now. "We mathematically combined the new rotation-reversal symmetry with the previous five symmetries and now we know that symmetrical groups can form in crystalline materials in a much larger number of ways," said Daniel B. Litvin, distinguished professor of physics, who coauthored the study with Venkatraman Gopalan, professor of materials science and engineering.
The new rotation-reversal sym
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