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Scientists searching for quasicrystals—so-called ‘impossible’ materials with unusual, non-repeating structures—have identified one in remnants of the world’s first nuclear bomb test.

The previously unknown structure, made of iron, silicon, copper and calcium, probably formed from the fusion of vapourized desert sand and copper cables. Similar materials have been synthesized in the laboratory and identified in meteorites, but this one, described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 17 May, is the first example of a quasicrystal with this combination of elements.

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