Borophene: Strongest Material Ever?

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy have published research about a new material they created: borophene. Similar in structure to graphene (a two-dimensional allotrope), this new material has some interesting properties.
   
Research into borophene began after scientists learned that the metalloid boron could demonstrate some metallic properties when stretched out into a two-dimensional sheet (i.e. one atom thick). However, this allotrope of boron is not found in nature, so it was synthesized in a lab using theoretical models of what the material should look like. By vaporizing boron with an intense electron beam, then condensing the gas onto a thin film of silver (which does not react with boron), scientists were able to create borophene.

While other two-dimensional materials - like graphene - are usually smooth and completely flat, the boron atoms bind together in such a way that gives borophene small ridges, like corrugated cardboard. This structure gives borophene directional electrical conductivity, meaning electricity can move along it in one direction more easily than the other. Researchers are also theorizing that borophene may have the greatest tensile strength of any material ever discovered.

Since it’s only just been discovered, borophene still needs a lot of research to flesh out its potential. But, it may have incredible applications in the future. 

How to Weld Together Un-Weldable Metals

Many metals have been modified at the microscopic level to be much, much stronger. But the heat from traditional welding methods breaks down the intricate microstructures of these metals, weakening them. Now, engineers at The Ohio State University have developed a new welding technique that uses 80% less energy than spot welding while creating bonds that are 50% stronger.
   
In spot welding, contacting metal surfaces are partially melted and joined together by the heat generated from resistance to electric current (our induction furnace works using similar principles). Unfortunately, generating the necessary current requires lots of energy, and the melted portions of the metal lose strength in the process. The new technique, dubbed vaporized foil actuator (VFA) welding, bypasses both of these problems.

In VFA welding, a short electric pulse is delivered to a thin piece of aluminum foil. Within microseconds, the foil vaporizes in a burst of hot gas. The reaction is like a miniature explosion that pushes two pieces of metal together at speeds approaching thousands of miles per hour. The impact is so powerful that the atoms of one metal bond with the atoms of the other.

The electric pulse in VFA welding is less than what would be required to melt the metal parts in spot welding. And since the metal is never melted, its atomic structure – and strength – is preserved. So far, engineers have used VFA welding to successfully bond different combinations of copper, aluminum, magnesium, iron, nickel and titanium. They also bound commercial steel and aluminum alloys – an impossible feat with traditional welding. As the technology develops, we are sure to hear about more combinations.

Which is Worth More: Lego Bricks or Gold Bricks?

Gold prices are finally doing better. But late last year, they weren’t. A report from The Telegraph went viral when it claimed that many Lego sets — if never opened and purchased in the year 2000 or later — yielded more value for their owners each year than the gold investments. Teen Vogue followed suite with a report that luxury retail site Baghunter conducted a study comparing the S&P 500, gold, and Hermes Birkin handbags over the past 35 years. The average yearly increase in value for the handbags was 14.2% - better than most traditional investment vehicles. Mashable added to the list with Star Wars action figures, My Little Pony sets, and factory-sealed Game Boys.

Before you sell all your gold and diversify your portfolio with collectible toys, there are some factors you should consider. For example, collectibles only fetch top-dollar if they are in mint condition. Gold bullion (and gold-backed investments, like ETFs) is worth the same no matter its condition. Also, collectibles are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them. If the popularity of Lego sets decreases, so does their value. Gold on the other hand, is a globally agreed upon store of value – plus it’s an extremely useful raw material, so there will always be a demand for it.

Investing in collectibles is also more difficult than investing in gold. One must have the foresight to predict what will still be in popular demand decades from now to keep from ending up with a bunch of Beanie Babies or 90s-era comic books. Since gold is always in demand, it’s great for portfolio diversification and hedging against other investments. The marketplace is also easier to operate in - it’s incredibly easy to sell your gold for a good price, but not so much establishing a deal with a collectibles buyer. There’s no harm in buying some collectibles as a hobby. But traditional investments like gold are most definitely safer havens over the long term.