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Fast in-situ X-ray scattering reveals stress sensitivity of gypsum dehydration kinetics
Communications Materials  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-05-24, DOI: 10.1038/s43246-021-00156-9
Christoph Eckart Schrank, Oliver Gaede, Tomasz Blach, Katherine Carmen Michelle Gioseffi, Stephen Mudie, Nigel Kirby, Klaus Regenauer-Lieb, Andrzej P. Radliński

The dehydration of gypsum to hemihydrate has been studied for decades because it is an important model reaction for understanding fluid-triggered earthquakes, and due to the global use of plaster of Paris in the construction industry. The dehydration kinetics of gypsum strongly depend on temperature and water vapour pressure. Here, we perform fast, time-resolved synchrotron X-ray scattering on natural alabaster samples, finding that a small elastic load accelerates the dehydration reaction significantly. The mechanical acceleration of the reaction consumes about 10,000 times less energy than that due to heating. We propose that this thermodynamically surprising finding is caused by geometry-energy interactions in the microstructure, which facilitate nucleation and growth of the new crystalline phase. Our results open research avenues on the fundamental thermo-mechanics of crystal hydrates and the interaction of stress and chemical reactions in crystalline solids with a wide range of implications, from understanding dehydration-triggered earthquakes to the energy-efficient design of calcination processes.