One of zirconium’s several compounds has amazed scientists with its weird behavior and sheer variety of potential commercial uses. Its name is zirconium tungstate and it could make many everyday annoyances a thing of the past.

Wild temperature swings can crack a plate as easily as dropping it on a hard kitchen floor, for example. A ceramic dish taken from the freezer and thrust into a hot oven splits apart because some parts heat up and expand faster than others.

But all that may change with non-toxic zirconium tungstate, a blend of zirconium, tungsten and oxygen. And several U.S. patent applications have already been lodged to exploit its main feature: a tendency to shrink, uniformly, when heat is applied.