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A new material is only useful so far as it suits a particular application. Is it strong, stretchy, or soft? Is it a great electrical conductor or insulator? Can it withstand heat, pressure, or radiation? There are two general ways a novel material with useful properties might come about: either it is engineered with a particular feature in mind, like steel, or it is created first, often by happenstance, then explored to discover what it can do, like Teflon ® . (Teflon was invented accidentally in the pursuit of new refrigerants and quickly became the gold standard of household nonstick cookware.) Regardless of the way a new material comes about, materials scientists, like Los Alamos’s Blas Uberuaga, are continually discovering new things about them. Originally, Uberuaga wanted to understand the role of interfaces in the evolution of radiation damage. At material interfaces there are a high number of defects, or structural irregularities, which help the material absorb radiation. He was mostly working with simple oxide-oxide interfaces, that is, interfaces between two oxygen-containing compounds, each side of which is a lattice that matches up fairly well with the other, so he didn’t have to deal much with misfits. Then Pratik Dholabhai, a theoretical chemist working with Uberuaga, began wondering about more complex oxide- oxide interfaces, and in short order the misfits, or instances of poor fit, took center stage. Most of the earth’s crust consists of solid oxides of one type or another. When oxygen forms a compound with another element, it is called an oxide; two of the most familiar ones are dihydrogen monoxide (H 2 O) and carbon dioxide (CO 2 ). Oxygen is by far the most abundant element on Earth by mass and readily reacts with most of the others. (Notable exceptions are the precious metals gold and platinum, whose general inertness is part of why they are prized.) When oxygen reacts with a metal, like strontium or titanium, it forms a metal oxide. Metal oxides are common in nature and frequently participate in the formation of composite materials, such as granite and marble. 1663 May 2015 21