The discovery of plasma crystals (that are colloidal particles introduced into a charge neutral plasma) has led to several insights into the dynamics of melting and freezing. Hubertus Thomas and G Morfill of the Max-Planck Institute at Garching, Germany, have used polymer spheres of about seven micrometres diameter to study the melting dynamics of plasma crystals. They have reported evidence of an unexpected phase which is characterised by enhanced order in the crystal as the sample melts. If confirmed, this could resolve several problems related to an understanding of phase transitions (Nature, February 29, 1996).
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