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Salt spices up chemistry

Hot, compressed sodium chloride stretches fundamental rules of matter

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11:10am, December 20, 2013

SALT GONE WILD  Experiments using extreme conditions reveal that common table salt, NaCl, can form exotic compounds, such as NaCl3. In this illustration, purple represents sodium, green represents chlorine and blue represents electron clouds.

With a dash of table salt, scientists have created exotic compounds that bend the basic rules of chemical bonds and matter in the universe, researchers report in the Dec. 20 Science.

The team pulled off the spicy chemistry by squeezing grains of sodium chloride between two diamonds while frying the salt with a laser.

The high-temperature, high-pressure conditions mimic those inside stars and planets, says chemist Artem Oganov of Stony Brook University. His team’s discovery that these conditions create unexpected chemicals suggests that alien chemical structures make up a vast fraction of the solar system’s matter.

“This is a new chapter of chemistry,” Oganov says. It means that the rules in chemistry textbooks have much more limited applicability than previously thought, he says.

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