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By adapting a thermal imaging furnace more commonly used for growing crystals, MIT graduate student Bradley Nakanishi melted an aluminum oxide rod and contacted the hanging liquid pendant that it formed with electrodes, enabling the decomposition by electrolysis of the material into oxygen gas and aluminum alloy for the first time. Here, a back-scattered electron micrograph shows the variation in composition and microstructure along a vertical cross-section of the cathode after electrolysis. A liquid aluminum-iridium alloy deposit (center-right) forms at the interface between the iridium cathode (left) and electrolyte (black area, far right). Image: Bradley Nakanishi

Enlightening the properties of very hot compounds

The thermodynamic properties of compounds, for example, aluminum oxide, which is known as obstinate materials since they liquefy at temperatures over 2,000 degrees Celsius....