Blog 7: Grain Boundaries and State Boundaries: An operational simile!

I was recently in Mangalore for a wonderful conference on Lasers. I had to give a talk here and also participate to listen to others. The family of researchers working on Lasers, worldwide, is quite limited.. and in that, those working on Pulsed Lasers for material depositions is further narrowed. Hence listening to such talks and also delivering one on such platforms is always fun! So I was hearing one speaker who was talking on grains and grain boundaries.

Those who are new to this field, grains are small crystals or crystallites (group of atoms) of a particular material, which show similar behavior. In any given material (say copper, aluminium, gold, silicon, any oxides and so on), the arrangement of atoms is important. If they are grouped in the form of crystallites, then the structure looks something like the one shown below.


It has multiple groups (grains) randomly oriented. The inter-grain arrangement is random (but in equilibrium), but intra-grain arrangement is very systematic. Imagine a hexagonal arrangement. Well, imagine multiple atoms arranged in hexagonal fashion, which is a single grain. And such hexagonal cubes oriented in different fashion would form the entire polycrystalline material. Now, every grain will have a grain-boundary with respect to its neighbor. These grain boundaries are full of imperfections and random orientations of atoms. This is natural, because, the atoms in these locations are under loose-influence of either of the grains and hence their orientation is slightly screwed. These imperfections give rise to fatigue in the crystalline system of the material, and that gives rise to strain, stress and creeks in the material, which gives rise to a bit-of instability to the structure. A smooth grain boundary is desirable, but is never so..!! And this gives rise to the characteristic behavior of the material. The conductivity, electrical, optical and other properties are dependent on these grains and grain boundaries. The “personality” of any material, will depend upon the polycrystalline nature and the way in which it is engineered.. that is its inter-grain chemistry. If the grain boundaries are rough, the overall performance of the material gets affected to a very large extent. All the notorious atoms lying in this region create resistance to the systematic behavior of the material, giving rise to an “altered” (often, poor) performance of the material. But how about a single crystal? The crystal in which all the atoms are perfectly aligned with respect to each-other? They would behave very systematic and the performance would be very good, when any external field is applied. However, in case of polycrystalline material, large external electric/magnetic fields would be required to align all the grain –boundary atoms in a proper way to give a systematic performance.

Partial map of India : for example

Every country is like a polycrystalline material, I thought.. Every state is like a grain, comprising of people of similar types (like atoms in a grain). They speak certain language, have similar behavioral, food, dressing patterns and have similar thought-process. As we go from one state to another, the pattern changes, the language changes and again, the people there are well-aligned with each other. But what happens at the boundaries? The state boundaries comprise of people who are in complicated situation. Individual political influences from either states co-exist, languages interfere and their thought processes are also complicated. The grain boundaries are rough… similarly, the regions between the interfaces of two states is also complicated. This weak identity of the people creates barriers, misunderstandings and a kind-of polarized mind-sets. This resistance can be overcome only with a good and strong political control. It is easy to imagine that if two neighboring states have same party government, they would align with each-other easily; for example, sharing of water and electricity resources would happen easily. But if not, resistance would be large. The identity of these states and hence the identity of the country starts deteriorating, which defines the economy of the country. Therefore very strong political governance (just like externally applied electric or magnetic field) would be necessary to keep all the states together (just like keeping the polycrystalline system together). If a single majority government exists, it is easy to have a congenial country, which will develop faster than that with a government with lot of alliances.

If a country has no states, what will happen? Single state country will be most peaceful, easy to handle and with good economical standing. Think of Vatican City, a single state place with merely 1000 people. This is like a single crystal in materials. However, the nature of a country is similar to the nature of mostly made materials.. polycrystalline.. multi-state…

Thought of putting up this thought of correlation of material science with the country formation and governance… I can think deeper… and talk about the “type” of atom and “behaviour/nature” of an individual.. but that will make this blog more complicated (and interesting)!!

A material can be made to work in its best performance mode by handling the grain boundaries properly and ensuring that these boundaries are minimal. Same way, a country can run with best economy of the inter-state politics is kept minimal and people think alike..!!

Published by sangeeta kale

This is Sangeeta Kale. I work as a Professor in Physics and research is my passion. Studied from University of Pune and University of Maryland (College Park, USA), I work mainly on Sensors and Nanotechnology. Fitness, Marathon running, car rally driving and travelling are few of my other passions. Correlating science to various aspects is the intention of this blog: right from technological advances to humanity and philosophy.!

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    1. आपला लेख वाचून मला मराठीतील एक म्हण आठवली ‘पिंडी ते ब्रह्मांडी’. जे सूक्ष्म रुपात पेशी पातळीवर घडते तसेच प्रचंड विस्तार असलेल्या ब्रह्मांडात पण तशाच घटना घडत असतात. शास्त्रज्ञांनी जे अणू पातळीवर पाहिले आहे तशाच प्रकाराच्या गोष्टी समाजात पण दिसून येतात.


  1. Well return article. This is best way to understand science with philosophical way. Applying science to present political scenerio is very interesting. I think in science we always come out solution to each and every problem of associated with it. Similar line I think your thought regarding maximum governce minimum politics will be sorted if people (atoms) started to behave more responsibly. Well written article. thank you Ma’am.


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