US boffins from Johns Hopkins University have discovered how atoms pack themselves in unusual materials known as 'metallic glasses'.
But science fiction fans may be disappointed to learn that the research will not lead to the recreation of the transparent aluminium which came in so handy for the crew of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home.
The discovery should, however, help scientists better understand the atomic structure of this material, which could be used in the manufacture of sports equipment, mobile phone cases, armour piercing projectiles and other products.
The culmination of a two-year research project was reported in the 26 January issue of Nature.
It is described as a major step forward because the tools used to study traditional crystalline metals do not work well with metallic glass, and a better understanding of the material has been sorely needed.
"How the atoms pack themselves in metallic glass has been a mystery," said Howard Sheng, an associate research scientist in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins.
"We set out to decipher this packing information and were ultimately able to provide a clear description of how the atoms arrange themselves in metallic glass."
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