To study high temperature metallic liquids is to study something whose temperature may exceed 2000°C, that would immediately oxidize several nanometers deep from the surface if exposed to air, and reflects nearly 75% of the incident light off its surface making it an amazingly challenging class of systems to attempt to study. Additionally, while equilibrium thermodynamics would has us believe that a system can never be cooled below its melting temperature, we know better as glasses (like window glass) exist all around us, suggesting that if we’re very careful, and ask very nicely, we might very gently coax a liquid below its melting temperature, called supercooling, thus allowing us to probe its properties as it nears the glass transition temperature. Such challenges invite innovation and the electrostatic levitator is one such technique. My research group works to extend this and other advanced sample environment technologies to study metals, ceramics, insulators and ionic liquids.
In a couple of publications, we describe the design and use of electrostatic levitation for x-ray and neutron studies. For both apparati, the essential concept is that we need a clean vacuum environment, a way to bring in a scattering beam and a window to allow the scattered pattern to reach detectors.The beamline electrostatic levitator (BESL) interfaces with the Advanced Photon Source (APS)