The discovery of a team of scientists from the universities of Michigan, Lorraine and Canterbury pushes the problem of acute scarcity of rare earth metals indefinitely. They found that they could create an imitation of the sought-after but rare element, gallium, by connecting at the atomic level several layers of its neighbors in the periodic table. The properties of this hybrid in some cases allow it to replace parts made of gallium itself without losing the performance properties of the equipment.
There will be no more rare earth elements on Earth, and we will not start mining them in space very soon. Meanwhile, the known reserves, according to some calculations, will be enough for 10-20 years, no more. Therefore, world science and industry decided to revise the criteria for the use of rare earth metals and use recycled raw materials and hybrid versions. This includes a film imitation of gallium.
Gallium belongs to Group III in the Periodic Table, but elements from Groups II, IV and V have properties similar to it. Using molecular beam epitaxy, the scientists superimposed layers of zinc, tin and nitrogen atoms on top of each other to create a hybrid material whose optoelectronic properties are identical to gallium. It can now be used to make thin-film solar panels, LEDs, and display coatings using common and inexpensive chemical elements.
What's even more interesting, if you replace zinc with magnesium in this design, the range of absorbed sunlight is expanded to the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Instead of economizing on scarce gallium, scientists were able to experiment with the compositions of hybrid elements to achieve interesting and useful properties. And all this is relatively cheap and long lasting.