Trace Element Conundrum of Natural Quasicrystals

Simone Tommasini, Luca Bindi, Maurizio Petrelli, Paul D. Asimow, Paul J. Steinhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We report laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry measurements of the trace element contents of the two naturally occurring quasicrystalline minerals, Al63Cu24Fe13 icosahedrite and Al71Ni24Fe5 decagonite, from their type locality in the Khatyrka meteorite. The isolated quasicrystal fragments were mounted separately from any matrix and are larger than the laser beam diameter. When the elements are sorted in order of volatility, a systematic and unique pattern emerges in both bulk natural quasicrystal specimens. They are highly depleted compared to primitive solar system materials (chondritic meteorites) in moderately refractory elements (those with 50% condensation temperatures near 1350-1300 K; V, Co, Mg, Cr) and significantly enriched in moderately volatile elements (those with 50% condensation temperatures between 1250 and 500 K; Sb, B, Ag, Sn, Bi). We compare the chondrite-normalized trace element patterns and ratios of the quasicrystals to those of scoriaceous cosmic spherules and other meteoritic components. The nonmonotonic shapes of the chondrite-normalized trace element patterns in both icosahedrite and decagonite are incompatible with a single condensation process from the gas of the solar nebula. Previous transmission electron microscopy studies show that the natural quasicrystals contain 3-5 vol % of silicate and oxide nanoparticle inclusions, which we consider to be the main host of the measured trace elements. On this basis, we construct a three-stage model for the formation of the quasicrystals and their inclusions: a high-temperature condensation stage and a low-temperature vapor-fractionation stage to make nanoparticles, followed by a third stage that leads to the formation of quasicrystals incorporating the two different types of nanoparticles and their incorporation into the CV chondrite parent body of the Khatyrka meteorite.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)676-689
Number of pages14
JournalACS Earth and Space Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 18 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • alloys
  • decagonite
  • icosahedrite
  • meteorite
  • quasicrystal
  • solar system
  • trace elements


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