Is there any metal oxide (like aluminum oxide, titanium dioxide etc.), that can be put into a vacuum and hit with a heat source, like a laser and be converted into pure metal with a slightly weaker vacuum having oxygen in it?

From my understanding pure metals tend to oxidize at higher temperatures, however, since "nature hates a vacuum", is it possible to use heat to do the opposite process by providing enough energy to break it's chemical bonds and then the oxygen joins the vacuum leaving the metal behind?

If this is impossible. Is there another way to use a laser to purify metals? If heat doesn't do the trick even in a unique environment, perhaps is it possible to focus ionizing radiation to essentially perform electrolysis on it?

Again, this might not work. So one last idea. For example, aluminum oxide and titanium dioxide are dielectrics. If you were to hit one side with an electron beam from a cathode ray tube to negatively charge one surface and use ionizing radiation on the other side could you then create a chemical reaction to purify the metal?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Even if it the energy does split the bonds with the oxygen you'd have some equilibrium with part of the liberated oxygen reacting back with the metal. You could influence on that by increasing the size of the vacuum relative to that of the amount of metal, but it might not be a very efficient production process. Normal vacuum pumps are not designed to operate with extremely high temperatures at the inlet so I assume you couldn't be continuously maintaining the vacuum by that means. $\endgroup$
    – Hans
    Jul 9, 2020 at 16:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe have a look at Laser ablation to see what tends to happen when lasers zap solids. On a trivial note, you could certainly use an appropriate laser, e.g., at 405 nm, to thermally decompose HgO. $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Jul 9, 2020 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


There is a well known analysis technique in materials chemistry called ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) where you have a sample, and using an inductive electric field, the plasma of the sample containing ions of the elements present is created. This is then passed through a mass spectrometer to know the elemental composition of a material synthesised. It is one of the best known techniques for elemental analysis.

However, the idea of using ICP-MS like technique for purification of metal oxides is novel to me. Instead of induction to introduce electric field and rip apart the electrons from the atoms, you can achieve the same using a laser. The rest idea is same.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inductively_coupled_plasma_mass_spectrometry

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.