Humans have been cooling metal mixtures from liquid to solid for thousands of years. But surprisingly, not much is known about exactly what happens during the process of solidification. Particularly puzzling is the solidification of eutectics, which are mixtures of two or more solid phases.

Ashwin Shahani, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Michigan, is working to solve the mystery of eutectic solidification, and his research has revealed an intricate and beautiful universe of nanoscale rods, sheets and spirals that form spontaneously in cooling alloys.

We sat down recently to talk with him about his latest paper, "Multi-Step Crystallization of Self-Organized Spiral Eutectics," and how it could lead to a new generation of lightweight alloys and optical products with properties superior to monolithic materials.

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