Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL
) loves to think of lucrative new uses for other people's bright ideas.
For instance, the original iPod wouldn't have been possible without Toshiba's innovative 1.8-inch hard drive.
And when Steve Jobs learned about Gorilla Glass in 2006, he convinced Corning to revive the largely unused technology so Apple
could put it in the iPhone.
So it's no surprise that Apple has been toying with yet another breakthrough technology.
It's called Liquidmetal.
Liquidmetal is a family of metal alloys that combines a variety of metallic elements. It's a technique that rapidly cools the mixture into a "metallic glass" with a distinctly different molecular structure than conventional metals. It becomes amorphous, as opposed to crystalline.
That amorphous structure is the secret behind Liquidmetal's many remarkable properties.
Now imagine what Apple could do with a material that:
- Is five times as strong as aluminum and twice as strong as titanium;
- Is three times as elastic as ordinary metals;
- Is highly resistant to corrosion;
- Is highly resistant to scratching and wear;
- Has a fingerprint-resistant, glossy finish that needs no polishing;
- And can be blow-molded like glass or injection-molded like plastic.
And while most of the basic ingredients of Liquidmetal -- zirconium, titanium, nickel, copper, and beryllium -- remain the same, adjustments to the ratios and manufacturing process can customize the alloy for many different purposes.
Invented in 1992 as part of a joint project between NASA, the California Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy, Liquidmetal creates vast new possibilities - particularly in the hands of a company as innovative and resource-rich as Apple.
As NASA's web page for spinoff technologies puts it:
"In the same way that the inventions of steel in the 1800s and plastic in the 1900s sparked revolutions for industry, [this] new class of amorphous alloys is poised to redefine materials science as we know it in the 21st century."
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