How Does Liquid Steel Work?

Liquid steel works as a very tough yet elastic material by having its metal atoms tightly-packed but randomly arranged in an amorphous matrix during its manufacturing process. It is an alloy that is rapidly cooled to prevent the differently-sized atoms of the various metals that comprise it from forming crystals, resulting in a material that is harder than stainless steel but elastic. These properties are responsible for liquid steel's many industrial and commercial applications.

One commercial liquid steel product developed by the California Institute of Technology is Liquidmetal, a combination of five elements: 41.2 percent zirconium, 22.5 percent beryllium, 13.8 percent titanium, 12.5 percent copper and 10.0 percent nickel. Also known as metallic glass, it is used to make the metal casings of cell phones, the metal heads of golf clubs and the metal portions of other sports equipment, resulting in products that are stronger yet smaller, thinner and lighter.

Liquid steel is also used as an industrial coating for machines and equipment that are used in environments of extreme temperature, corrosion or wear, such as the wall of a refinery coker. The military uses liquid steel to make armor-piercing ammunition that has better safety and performance. The electronics industry is looking at various kinds of liquid steel to substitute for expensive and fragile silicon-made molds used in nanoimprint lithography.

Metallic glass also has important medical applications, such as the production of surgical knives that are sharper, longer-lasting and more consistently manufactured compared to stainless steel or diamond. One type of metallic glass that dissolves in the body and provides scaffolding for new bone growth may substitute for titanium or steel screws or plates to fix bone fractures.