Straw into gold. Water into wine. Servant into princess. It's a longstanding obsession of human myth-making: turning one thing into another thing -- a lowly thing into a vaunted thing -- by way of miracle or magic.
Well, someone get Joseph Campbell. Because science has just found another way to bring the Rumpelstiltskin story to life. And to the life, specifically, of your electronics. A collective of researchers from the U.S., Finland, Germany, and Japan, working with the U.S. Department of Energy, has developed a way to make metal out of the straw of the contemporary world: cement. The process they discovered, published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, transforms liquid cement into a kind of glass-metal fusion that is exceptionally good at conducting heat and electricity. The resulting hybrid, the scientists say, can be used as a semiconductor in electronics: it offers good conductivity, low energy loss in magnetic fields, better resistance to corrosion than traditional metal, less brittleness than traditional glass, and fluidity for ease of processing and molding.
Which means that your gadgets -- their liquid-crystal displays, their protective coatings, their computer chips -- may soon be made, in part, of cement.