Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week NEWTON Teachers Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Referencing NEWTON Frequently Asked Questions About Ask A Scientist About NEWTON Education At Argonne Non-Brittle Metals in Low Temperature Environment

Name: Rob
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: FL
Country: USA
Date: Summer 2012

Are there any metals or alloys currently in existence which can withstand exposure to extreme cold (such as liquid nitrogen) and will not shatter on impact (such as being dropped to the floor)? Any which could conceivably remain ductile and flex even at such temperatures?

Styrofoam is a commonly used container for liquid nitrogen that can be dropped without shattering. The outside of the polystyrene foam stays room-temp (and therefore flexible), while the interior becomes brittle... but because heat transfer in polystyrene foam is so poor, and the polystyrene on the outside is very flexible, the overall container will not break if dropped. There are a lot of metals that would not break if dropped either.

Nickel (9%) steel is one material that is commonly used for cryogenic applications owing to its good performance at low temperatures. I suppose a number of polymer systems could be designed to have cryogenic Tg (glass transition temperatures) as well, although these materials would not be common because they would be too difficult to handle at room temperature.

Hope this helps, Burr Zimmerman

Click here to return to the Material Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 223
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: November 2011
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory