Creating materials in their solid state can be tricky but offers some advantages over other methods. It typically involves subjecting the component elements to some type of mechanical force—such as stress, shear, or strain—to drive a reaction.
“You eliminate the need for solvents, so it removes potentially harmful substances from the waste stream,” said Ames Laboratory scientist and Iowa State University Distinguished Professor Vitalij Pecharsky, “and it offers greater selectivity so you can steer it toward a specific reaction. Most processing is done at room temperature, so energy inputs are reduced and the resulting end products may be meta-stable as well.”
It also offers a pathway to materials that aren’t typically possible by other methods. One example is the work Pecharsky has done using ball milling. Using this mechanochemistry technique, you can create a homogeneous mixture—a consistent blend throughout the entire sample—even though you start with a mixture of components that can be 99.9 percent of one component and only 0.1 percent of the second component.