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New - 4 April 2007

Microclusters are tiny aggregates of matter consisting of from two to several hundred atoms, and as such constitute a new distinct phase of matter. Microclusters are the intervening state of matter lying being monoatomic elements and matter consisting of sufficient numbers of atoms so as to constitute the states of matter we normally associate with various elements and compounds.

For example, metals in the normal state of matter exhibit electrical conductivity via the sharing of free electrons. However, as smaller and smaller samples of a metal are accumulated -- to the extreme of becoming a microcluster of the metal -- the characteristics of the solid metal begin to change and in some cases disappear altogether. This could include changes in the phenomena of conductivity.

A particularly relevant question might concern the transitional stages whereby one moves from one phase of matter to another. We already know, for example, that in phase changes between a gas and a liquid and between a liquid and a solid that the phase change states are particularly profound. The most commonly known are those of water, in particular the peculiar behavior of a sample of water expanding as the temperature drops below the freezing point.

The obvious question, then, is what can we expect in going from a solid to a microcluster or vice versa? As Michael Duncan and Dennis Rouvray have asked in their Scientific American article [1], "Do growing clusters proceed gradually from one stable structure to another, largely through the simple addition of atoms, or do they undergo radical transformations as they grow?" If the water example is any indication, we can probably expect the latter.

On the one hand, investigations into the transitional phase can be difficult, Duncan and Rouvray, for example, note that,

"Other properties of the solid are also thought to emerge in clusters as they grow, although the transition points have rarely been found. Gold clusters supported on a substrate will reach the melting point of solid gold only if they contain 1,000 or more atoms, although it is unclear to what extent the melting point is influenced by the substrate."

Clearly, the concept of Microclusters as a transitional phase between solids and monoatomic elements or compounds is of potentially enormous importance. And just as in the case of water, one might suspect that the direction of the phase change -- whether from microcluster to solid or vice versa -- may be of particular importance as well. Duncan and Rouvray [1] have addressed what might be considered the tranditional version of this concept by writing:

"Divide and subdivide a solid and the traits of its solidity fade away one by one, like the features of the Cheshire cat, to be replaced by characteristics that are not those of liquids or gases. They belong instead to a new phase of matter, the microcluster."

This short paragraph might be compared to the advice of the Alchemist:

"Divide, divide, divide..."

The latter refers to the classic scenario that in order to obtain the philosopher's stone and/or the elixir of life, one needs to break down the matter at hand into its smallest component parts.

Intriguingly this is the same advice in Homeopathy where in order to avoid negative side effects, the active substance is constantly divided by means of dilution (e.g. in water) until there is a negligible chance of a single atom of the active substance remaining in the solution (and thus there can be no side effects from what is essentially water). However, the healing property of the active substance can nevertheless be transmitted via the carefully-handled water solution.

This dividing scheme can also be recognized in a quote from the English chemist Robert Boyle, who in 1661, in his Sceptical Chymist, spoke of:  

"...minute masses or clusters [that[ were not easily dissipable into such particles as compos'd them." [1]

It is worth noting that Robert Boyle (along with Isaac Newton) were avid alchemists. It is also fascinating that modern science is currently discovering and publishing learned papers on what apparently was well known by those of the ancients who were not shy about asking the most profound questions, and who had the wit to answer these questions.

The properties of microclusters can be expected to vary enormously from the normal matter, where clusters of atoms in the latter are simply large collections of microclusters of the same elements or atoms. Duncan and Rouvray [1] note, for example:

"Many cluster properties are determined by the fact that a cluster is mostly surface. A closely packed cluster of 20 atoms has only one atom in its interior; a cluster made up of 100 atoms may have only 20. Other properties stem from clusters' unfilled electronic bonding capability, which leaves them 'naked' and hence extremely reactive."

Monoatomic elements, for example, are claimed to exhibit superconductivity at room temperature. In fact, in the research concerning ORME (Orbitally Rearranged Monoatomic Elements), it is becoming increasingly clear that what appeared to be samples of monoatomic elements might in fact be more akin to microclusters (or as per the terminology now in use, the samples are more likely to be ORMUS, rather than ORME). Keep in mind that the surface area of a single atom may lead to attributes which are astoundingly more significant that even microclusters.

The implications are profound. Clearly, the technology now exists to create microclusters. A schematic of a working cluster generator using laser technology, for example, is included in Duncan and Rouvray's article [1].

"Cluster Generator uses a pulsed laser to vaporize metal in a channel swept by helium gas, which cools the vapor so that it condenses to form clusters of varying sizes. The clusters pass into a vacuum where they expand rapidly, cooling to almost absolute zero. They are then ionized by an ultraviolet laser and accelerated in an electric field over a known distance, which sorts the clusters by mass into packets, or abundance peaks."

Were the metal sample to be gold or any of the other seven precious metals, microclusters of such metals could be isolated, and potentially the speculations concerning the white powder of gold could be answered. In many respects, the "divide, divide, divide' creed of the alchemists might be twisted around in order to allow the use of modern laser technology to generate the ORMUS. Duncan and Rouvray have already reported [1] that, "Efforts are now being made to deposit clusters in thin films that could function as superconductors."

Ah yes, science appears in all respects to be hot on the trail of the Philosopher's Stone -- even if science has no clue as to this ultimate goal. But that's pretty much the manner in which great scientific strides have been made in the past. It's called "pure research." We don't know where we're going, but it's simply amazing how often such activity yields the most impressive of achievements!



[1] Michael A. Duncan and Dennis H. Rouvray, "Microclusters", Scientific American, December, 1989.


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