Metastable Phases of Black Arsenic

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black arsenic (As(V)) is a poisonous element that exists in nature only in the mineral form of arsenic trioxide. It is toxic to animals and plants and is responsible for numerous health issues in humans including multiple types of cancer, heart disease, lung disease and dementia. Arsenic is also associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and impacts infant growth, development and intelligence (1).

Unlike most other metals, arsenic is extremely difficult to convert into water-soluble or volatile compounds. This is one of the reasons that it has remained persistent in the environment and can be found at many sites, far from its original source. In fact, the majority of arsenic pollution in the world is due to human activities (e.g. mining, melting, land clearing and agriculture).

As a result, many naturally occurring concentrations of arsenic in soil are concentrated in specific areas and are hard to get rid of. This is exacerbated by the fact that arsenic is very mobile and can migrate from site to site, even when its concentrations are low (2).

To overcome this, researchers are exploring metastable phases of solid materials. They do this by using gas-phase reactions, where a solid is heated and the resulting pressure that builds up through sublimation of particles from the material is measured. This allows them to identify which particles enter the gas phase and to study which pathways they take to reach their final stable state. The results of these experiments provide fundamental academic knowledge, but they can also help in developing targeted synthetic pathways for desirable metastable phases. This is especially important for the production of innovative materials, since it is often the case that metastable phases have interesting properties (3).